Testament of Youth

 

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DIR: James Kent • WRI: Juliette Towhidi • PRO: Rosie Alison, David Heyman • DOP: Rob Hardy • ED: Lucia Zucchetti • DES: Jon Henson • MUS: Max Richter • CAST: Alicia Vikander, Kit Harington, Dominic West, Emily Watson, Miranda Richardson, Taron Egerton

 

 

Vera Brittain’s memoir Testament of Youth served as a searing and intensely moving account about the emotional scars World War I left on an entire generation. James Kent’s film adaptation of said memoir serves as a visually stunning but at times sludgy representation of its source material. Though not lacking in talent or feeling, the film suffers from an uneven distribution of focus and relies too much on its central romance to wrangle the viewer’s emotions.

We begin on Armistice Day 1918 as our protagonist, Vera, wanders aimlessly through the celebrating crowds before flashing back four years prior to the summer of 1914, when war was just over the horizon. A highly intelligent young woman, Vera dreams, not of marriage, but of studying in Oxford and becoming a professional writer cos’ she’s a strong independent woman who don’t need no man! OK, snarkiness aside, Swedish new-comer Alicia Vikander does make for a compelling and believable (if, yes, slightly typical) heroine. There are few films focused on the women who kept things running behind the scenes during wartime and it undoubtedly makes for a refreshing change. The Brittain’s family home settled in the heart of Derbyshire makes for a lush and dream-like setting. The apple of Vera’s eye is her younger brother Edward (Taron Egerton), whose bookish school friend Roland Leighton (Kit Harington) makes a deep impression on our protagonist. Drawn together by their mutual love of poetry, Vera and Roland’s relationship blossoms from one of affection to true love.

The war, of course, is always at the forefront of the film, yet Kent never bogs down the viewers with too many facts, giving us just enough information so we know where we are at any given moment. It’s a bitter sweet experience watching this idealistic young couple’s relationship evolve as we know the devastation that inevitably awaits them. The young men who frolic and laugh together on screen in the film’s opening moments will soon be marching to their deaths in France. As a result, there’s a lingering poignancy to every frame, an extra layer of meaning behind each scene. Though the film focuses mainly on those these young men left behind, the impact of their deaths is more intimately felt. For every shot of a wounded soldier lying in the mud there is a shot of a father’s tears or nurse’s blood splattered apron. Needless to say, emotion runs high throughout the duration of the film.

That said, some of this emotion, namely Vera and Roland’s romance, feels acutely overwrought. Both Harington and Vikander deliver solid performances but Kent can’t resist injecting unnecessary soppiness into their relationship with highly stylised sequences and clichés- the heroine longing touching places of her face and body were the hero touched her, close-up shots of a specific part of the love interest’s features, etc. Their relationship does at least feel genuine but the director insists on forcing it down the viewer’s throats. The film’s focus is also divided a little awkwardly: the first half is dedicated entirely to one relationship, the other half to the overall horrors of war and it is the latter that is far more impactful as a piece of cinema. Though moving, the relationship of two individuals simply does not match the agonizing suffering of an entire people. Kent pays homage to many of cinema’s greatest war epics in a number of carefully chosen shots, deciding to capture the aftermath of the battles rather than the battles themselves. There’s no ‘us vs. them’ dynamic here; we feel as much for the German soldiers as we do for the British ones, giving the film a more humanistic feel.

There’s an echoey sense of loss about the First World War that still reverberates to this day; a sense of loss for the unrealised potential of the young men who gave their lives and for mothers, fathers, wives, and friends who were left in the aftermath. It’s this undefinable pang of sadness that Testament of Youth manages to encapsulate so well. You just have to sit through forty minutes of romantic slush to get to that.

Ellen Murray

12A (See IFCO for details)
129 minutes.
Testament of Youth
is released 16th January 2015.

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Cinema Review: Johnny English Reborn

about as useless as a cat-flap in an elephant house

DIR: Oliver Parker • WRI: William Davies Hamish McColl • PRO: Tim Bevan, Chris Clark, Eric Fellner • DOP: Danny Cohen • ED: Guy Bensley • DES: Jim Clay • CAST: Rowan Atkinson, Rosamund Pike, Dominic West, Gillian Anderson

Over the course of this movie, four different men get kicked in the groin. If genital punishment occurring en masse is your idea of a good time, then this may be the movie for you. But if, on the other hand, you happen to have an IQ above that of an average ball-point pen, then may be not.

Following on from the events of the insanely popular first instalment, Johnny English Reborn finds Rowan Atkinson in a self-imposed exile after a failed mission in Mozambique. However, MI7 need him back after they discover someone is trying to kill the Chinese Premier. His new boss (Gillian Anderson) introduces him to his new partner (Daniel Kaluuya), his new love interest (previous Bond girl Rosamund Pike) and then just like that, English is being suited up, gadgeted out and driving around in the new Aston Martin Rolls Royce, in sexy new locations (Hong Kong, the French Alps) to stop this new assassination attempt.

Credit must be given to Atkinson for being just as adept at the physical comedy now as he was fifteen years ago when the commercials this series is based on were being aired, and the rest of the cast, particularly The Wire’s Dominic West, are all game for a laugh. But the laughs never seem to arrive, unless you find lowest common denominators like beating up old ladies hilarious. When placed next to this, the Austin Powers movies seem like the height of intellectualism. If you’re dying to see a new entry in a moribund spy-spoofing franchise, you’d best wait for Dr Evil and co’s return next year.

Rory Cashin

Rated PG (see IFCO website for details)

Johnny English Reborn is released on 7th October 2011

Johnny English Reborn – Official Website

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x-kinERhAGY

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Review of ‘Guests Of The Nation’ at the NCH 11th September 2011

guestsofthenation

(Guests of The Nation)

 

Rory Cashin spends an evening at the National Concert Hall for a special screening of the silent classic ‘Guests of The Nation’ accompanied by a new orchestral score by the RTÉ Concert Orchestra. The programme also featured Andrew Legge’s experimental silent film ‘The Lactating Automaton’ starring Dominic West, with a live orchestral score by Liam Bates and live Foley performance.

Set within the grand opulence of the National Concert Hall, and on the eve of Hurricane Katia’s arrival, those in attendance of the night’s festivities arrived in their glad rags and settled themselves in for a unique evening.

Starting off with a double bill of Andrew Legge ‘silent’ shorts, first up was The Unusual Inventions of Henry Cavendish. Combining footage of Dublin shot in 1897 with new scenes filmed on a clockwork 16mm Russian camera, the story of a young inventor vying for the affections of a well-to-do lady was very sweet, quite simple and expertly told. Accompanied by pianist Isabelle O’Connell, the first screening certainly set the mood for the experimental manner of the evening.

Next up was the premiere of Legge’s latest short, The Lactating Automaton. Starring The Wire’s Dominic West as an inventor unable to cope with a new baby and a wife that died during childbirth, he constructs a mechanical wet-nurse to look after his child.

Brilliantly unique, the funny and bittersweet short features fantastic cinematography, editing and art direction, and altogether more darker in tone that Cavendish, Legge’s new short channels influences such as Frankenstein, Spielberg’s A.I. and Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands. This latter influence extends further, as the score for the short is provided live by Liam Bates, and is quite reminiscent of Burton’s regular soundtrack composer Danny Elfman. The short is also presented with live Foley artists, scored by Caoimhe Doyle, and watching the three artists perform and create the sound effects right before your eyes was quite a sight to behold.

Finally, the world premiere of the new restoration of Guests of The Nation. The 1935 movie was introduced by Irish cinema icon Stephen Rea, whose speech made it evident that he is just as passionate about being a part of the audience as he is being part of what audiences come to see. The first big-screen viewing of the movie in over 75 years, the restoration of the project was beautifully handled, and the film itself has lost none of its power.

The story of a budding friendship between two British military prisoners and the two IRA members assigned to watch over them, the first and only feature by Denis Johnston is a testament to the enduring nature of cinema. The film was presented with a newly commissioned score by the Irish Film Institute under the Arts Council Commissions Award Scheme, composer Niall Byrne’s dramatic soundtrack perfectly accompanies the movie throughout, supplementing the ever-changing tones on screen.

The programme is part of Culture Ireland’s ‘Imagine Ireland: A Year Of Irish Arts In America 2011’, and will have its US premiere on 22nd September at the Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Centre in New York. To any of our readers in America, I highly recommend this evening’s unique spectacle of sight and sound.

Rory Cashin

 

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