BAZ BAMIGBOYE: A hundred years on, Brittain’s got talent
PUBLISHED: 23:10, 10 July 2014 | UPDATED: 07:55, 11 July 2014
Alicia Vikander went through the names of the young men featured in the classic book Testament Of Youth.
‘They all went to war,’ she said, ‘and never came back.’
Vera Brittain wrote Testament Of Youth as a story of remembrance of her brother, her fiance, and their friends (who became her friends), who were killed and maimed in the trenches during World War I.
Vikander, a Swedish-born, 25-year-old former ballet dancer, portrays Vera in the movie based
on the book.
Kit Harrington and Alicia Vikander who star in Testament of Youth, written by Vera Brittain
‘Her father did not want her to be educated to the level of her brother Edward,’ Alicia told me, as we sat in an anteroom at the old Terry’s chocolate factory in York, which had been used for filming the hospital ward scenes.
‘But she was determined. Her brother introduced her to all his school friends, and later she watched them go off to fight, and saw an entire generation wiped out.’
Alicia explained that when director James Kent and the picture’s producers, Rosie Alison and David Heyman, offered her the part of Vera in the BBC Film, she spoke to her own father about it, and he told her she would regret it if she turned it down.
‘He read the script and was so moved by it,’ Alicia told me.
The film’s packed with some of the brightest young talent ever assembled for one project.
There’s Alicia herself, who has seven major films set to be released over the next 18 months. In addition to Testament Of Youth, now in post production and due for release in 2015, she’s already shot The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Son Of A Gun, and Ex Machina.
She has also been filming director Justin Chadwick’s movie of the Deborah Moggach novel Tulip Fever. And after a short break, she will join Michael Fassbender in The Light Between Oceans, before moving swiftly on to join Eddie Redmayne on the set of The Danish Girl , being made by Oscar-winning film-maker Tom Hooper.
Dominic West, left, and Hayley Atwell, right, are also set to star in Testament of Youth, which will be released next year
The Testament Of Youth cast also includes Kit Harington, who was once in the play of War Horse (also set in World War I), who has become a name through the Game Of Thrones.
He portrays Vera’s fiance, Roland Leighton. Taron Egerton will play Vera’s brother Edward; Colin Morgan is their friend Victor Richardson; and Jonathan Bailey will portray Edward’s pal Geoffrey Thurlow.
Dominic West, Emily Watson, Hayley Atwell, Miranda Richardson, Alexandra Roach and Anna Chancellor are also in the movie.
Producer Rosie Alison said that Vera’s first person account of the Great War represented her ‘finding her voice as a pacifist, and her awakening as somebody wanting to leave her comfortable bourgeois roots and engage in the world of men and work’.
Despite its period setting, the story has a modern resonance, she added, and Victor, Edward, Roland and Geoffrey ‘stand for all young men, lost in all wars’. ‘You see these horribly wounded young men coming home from Afghanistan,’ she said. ‘It’s about loss in all wars.’
Alicia and Rosie met Vera’s daughter Shirley Williams, now 83, in the House of Lords, and she noted that the heart of what mattered to Vera was being a writer, and that the greatest joy she had was completing Testament Of Youth.
The BBC had some rights to film Brittain’s book because they made the television series four decades ago.
Executives at BBC Films instigated the notion of looking at it again, as the centenary of the start of the war approached.
Although the picture will be released next year, there’s some talk of it having a special gala at the BFI London Film Festival in October.
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