THE FILM: Testament of Youth
THE PAIRING: Vera Brittan (Alicia Vikander) and Roland Leighton (Kit Harington)
THE MOMENT: Roland and Vera discuss their future.
It goes without saying biographical films can often be some of the most powerful films out there. However, they are not always as well-made or as interesting as BBC’s Testament of Youth. Those unfamiliar with this recent production will discover the story of Vera Brittain, the author of the WWI biography of the same title, a book that is still considered one of the leading books today (this according to the printed facts at the end of the film).
What you might not realize is that this film also tells a beautiful romance. One that unfolds in a very short period of time given the circumstances and perilous times these people lived in. Today, I’m spotlighting some of the sweet and romantic moments this film has.
The Lead In
The romance is between Vera and Roland. The pair meet on the cusp of a war (through Vera’s younger brother), in a time when they’re all carefree and happy. Their greatest worry is nothing more than getting into a good college. Vera and Roland’s first real contact happens soon after she had declared to her father that she’d never marry! Immediately preceding this, she threw out the window all of her work; her poems and study material, all of which she was diligently working on in hopes of attending Somerville College. It’s this scene that Roland enters after receiving an invitation to stay with the Brittain family.
When she cools down, Vera goes outside to collect her work which fell beneath her window. It’s here that Roland finds her amidst the scattered pages. Watch the pretty scene below:
Following letters and the rare moment together, the pair says goodbye with an understanding of having “no more fear.” They’re ready to step forward together no matter the war and its consequences. But inevitably, Roland along with his friends – including Vera’s brother, Edward, march off to war leading to this tearful goodbye between the two.
However, it’s Vera and Roland’s next encounter that is spotlighted below…
The Romantic Moment
After seeing Roland off, Vera gives up her studies and joins the volunteer nursing services. During one of her shifts, she is surprised by a visit from her brother. It’s on this day she learns Roland has returned… all without telling her. Along with William and his friends, the four of them set off to Roland’s family home to see the returned soldier.
Seeing him sitting on the beach, Vera approaches him down the steep incline with a wide smile on her face only to come upon a dejected, worn young man. Nothing like the person she once knew. His only response to her quietly speaking his name and sinking to the ground beside him is to reply that in three days’ time he has to return. Before more words can be exchanged, they are interrupted by the boys. The four of them chat about their squadrons and past as Vera sits quietly by, feeling shut out of her love’s world.
When Victor declares that he wishes he could join up and be a part of the ranks (his poor eyesight prevents his enlisting), Vera sharply snaps at him. She’s reached her limit. Roland is treating her as nothing and the men of her life are acting like the war is some game. This inspires Edward to suggest they leave Vera and Roland to themselves.
Roland’s first words to Vera are to chastise her for her unnecessary retort aimed at Victor.
She wants him to talk to her about what’s going on. “Otherwise how can I understand,” she asks.
“Perhaps you can’t,” he answers with little warmth in his tone.
She continues, hoping to recapture their early days of happiness. She asks if he received the poems she sent him or if he has been writing poetry.
Scoffing at her apparent naivety, he turns and strides away. Standing still for a moment, Vera turns and follows after him. “Roland,” she calls and places her hand on his shoulder in an attempt to stop him. He shakes her off and sends her tumbling to the ground. Stricken by his thoughtlessness, he utters “I’m sorry” over and over again and turns away from her.
Recovering from her initial surprise, Vera desperately grabs hold of his jacket, stroking his cheek, and passionately tells him, “This, this is real. Feel it! This –” Emotionally, she tries to reach him, “This is part of you, don’t destroy it.” She places her hands over her heart and at her waist, begging him to come back to her with the physical connection.
Trying to hold his emotions in check, he attempts to face his great fear. “It might already be gone.”
“No,” Vera replies. She refuses to believe he is no longer there. “It’s not. I promise you.”
Overcome with emotion, he finally pulls Vera close, clutching her against him. He is desperate to cling to something that is real and to someone he loves. They stand like that for several heartbeats, Roland burying his head in her shoulder.
Later, they sit on the beach, close together, while enjoying these rare moments together. Roland confides in Vera, recounting a story from one of his soldiers – a soldier who just died. He had only just returned from leave, engaged to his fiancée.
Keeping close to him, Vera strokes his hair, letting him speak before saying, “We don’t need to get married, or engaged.”
Much to her surprise given that he knows her feelings on marriage, Roland turns to her and says, “Perhaps we should.”
In reply, she reminds him of their whirlwind romance by beginning, “It’s not what either of us wanted-”
His response is to interrupt her, painting a picture of what it might be like to marry. He sets up the day by believing it to be a sunny day, their family there, at an old church and Vera, in a beautiful church. Vera adds the idea of having a cake and he asks with a smile, “Does it get better than cake?”
Finally he faces her, places a hand tenderly against her cheek and with certainty says, “Marry me, Vera. Next time I’m home.”
With a kind of cautious bewildered joy, Vera answers him. “Right,” she says. With great joy and more affirmation, “Yes,” she says. The two kiss and embrace.
As the camera pans out, we see them flying a kite and stealing kisses. Their smiles are infectious, the audience welcoming this joyful and pure moment of bliss between this pair who while both too young, have experienced some of life’s most grim sorrows. In this moment, they are whole; their lives perfect on this stretch of beach. There is no war or upcoming separation and instead, they are a couple anticipating a wedding and a life full of love.
Have you seen this recent period drama? Let me know what you thought of this moment or the film down below. I’d love to chat with you!
Photos: BBC Films
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