The film starts with the image of a cheering crowd, celebrating the end of the war in 1918. Vera Brittain goes through the crowd, the only one not cheering, and ends up in a church, where several women are praying.
In 1914 Vera fights to become a student at Somerville College, Oxford. While her father is against it, her brother Edward supports her, along with his close friend Roland Leighton, and their friend Victor. Together the "three musketeers" and Vera have a good summer, swimming in a lake together and having long walks in the countryside. Roland, who is himself an aspiring poet, supports Vera in writing her own poems and pursuing her dream of becoming a writer someday. Roland and Vera start a shy romance. With the support of her brother Vera convinces her father to let her visit Oxford. The First World War breaks out and all three musketeers enlist. Vera helps convince her father to let Edward join the army.
When she arrives in Oxford she sees, for the first time, two amputees being assisted. In a newspaper, Vera sees that four of the pages of the paper consist of only the names of the fallen (i.e. the dead). Vera volunteers to join the VAD Voluntary Aid Detachment as a nurse tending the wounded in a hospital. Some of the other nurses know that she is from Oxford and therefore try to "break" Vera. For the first time Vera is confronted with the wounded from the front, when she has to wash a stinking soldier, brought covered in mud and blood from the battlefield in Flanders to the hospital in London. Roland comes back on home leave and is traumatised by his experiences at the front. After a talk with Vera he proposes to her and they decide to get married on his next home leave. They have a good day together after which Roland has to get back to France, this time accompanied by Vera's brother Edward. Vera's father has a breakdown after his son leaves. In the hospital a stream of wounded soldiers arrive. Roland writes that he has been granted a leave at Christmas, and has been sent far behind the lines and is safe. Just before Christmas, he is killed and Vera finds this out via a telephone call received on Christmas day. Vera eventually finds out that Roland did not die "bravely and painlessly", as the letter she receives from the Army states. Due to a lack of morphine he suffered a long time at a casualty clearing station in France, shot in the abdomen. Later, her friend Victor is blinded by a gas attack and arrives at the hospital. Vera proposes to him, so they "can take care of each other", but he refuses, although he has been in love with Vera for a long time. The next night he dies.
Vera decides to go work in France herself. Her father is very proud of her. It's August 1917 and in France the situation of the wounded is very bad. Due to a lack of surgeons often the nurses have to perform amputations. Vera works in a hospital behind the lines, where she is first tasked with treating wounded Germans. Although she and her superior at first seem to not care much about the wounded enemy, they later both comfort a dying German soldier. After a big offensive the hospital is so crowded that the wounded have to lay in the mud outside. In a huge pile of corpses Vera discovers her brother, who is still alive. His infected wound gets treatment and he is saved. After that he is sent to Italy, which seems to be good news, because the fighting there is lighter. Edward wants Vera to proceed her academic career after the war, by visiting Oxford. Vera's mother has a nervous breakdown and Vera goes home. There she takes over the households, by cleaning the house and hiring a maid.
Edward is killed on the Italian front.
The day of the truce comes. Like in the first minutes of the movie, Vera is shown as she marches stoically through a cheering crowd, to end up in a church where some women are praying. Honouring her brother's wish, Vera finally goes to Oxford, where she has nightmares about Roland's and Edward's death. Winifred Holtby, another student at the college, helps her cope with her trauma and to get back into the everyday world.
At a political discussion, about whether to punish or to forgive the Germans, most of the audience is for a "revenge treaty". George Catlin, who calls for a "forgiving peace" is booed upon. Vera gets on the stage and gives a speech about how she held the hand of a dying German soldier and that he was not different from her brother or her fiancé. Therefore she calls for a "No more" to war and revenge.
The last scenes show Vera swimming in the lake, where she swam with the "three musketeers" in 1914. She promises not to forget the dead and the screen turns to black.Alicia Vikander as Vera Brittain
Kit Harington as Roland Leighton
Colin Morgan as Victor Richardson
Taron Egerton as Edward Brittain
Dominic West as Mr Brittain
Emily Watson as Mrs Brittain
Joanna Scanlan as Aunt Belle
Hayley Atwell as Hope
Jonathan Bailey as Geoffrey Thurlow
Alexandra Roach as Winifred Holtby
Anna Chancellor as Mrs Leighton
Miranda Richardson as Miss Lorimer
Charlotte Hope as Betty
In February 2009, it was announced that BBC Films was developing a feature film adaptation of memoir Testament of Youth written by Vera Brittain, about women's experiences during World War I. The BBC had previously adapted the book as a five-part television serial which was transmitted on BBC2 in 1979 with Cheryl Campbell as Vera Brittain.
Film development had the support of Shirley Williams, Brittain's daughter, and of Mark Bostridge, Brittain's biographer, editor, and one of her literary executors, who was reportedly acting as consultant on the film. Heyday Films' producers David Heyman and Rosie Alison would be producing the film with the BBC, while Juliette Towhidi was adapting the film. James Kent would direct the film. On 4 February 2014 Protagonist Pictures came on board to handle international sales and launched the film at the Berlin International Film Festival in that month.
In December 2013, it was announced that Alicia Vikander would be playing the lead part of Brittain in the film, now to be released in late 2014 as part of the First World War commemorations. Saoirse Ronan was initially attached to play Brittain. On 4 February 2014, Kit Harington joined the cast to play the role of Brittain's fiancé Roland Leighton. On 13 February 2014, Colin Morgan, Alexandra Roach and Taron Egerton were announced to have joined the film's cast. An ensemble cast was confirmed as filming began, including Dominic West, Emily Watson, Joanna Scanlan, Hayley Atwell, Jonathan Bailey and Anna Chancellor.
Principal photography began on 16 March 2014 in London, Oxford and Yorkshire, including a number of locations across the North York Moors.
The railway station scenes, the train interiors, and the scene in the railway cafe, were shot at Keighley railway station, using trains provided by the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway. The landscape shots of period trains were filmed at the heritage track of the North Yorkshire Moors Railway. Ravenscar and Robin Hood's Bay in the North York Moors were locations for the coastal shots. The Welbeck Abbey estate in Nottinghamshire provided several locations, including the scenes at Uppingham School, Melrose House and the Étaples field hospital. The lake scenes were filmed in Darley Dale in Derbyshire. Hospital corridor scenes were filmed in Sheffield Town Hall.
To portray the war-blinded Victor Richardson, Morgan interviewed a series of ex-service men and women; he contacted Blind Veterans UK and spent a day at the charity's Brighton Centre, where he received the same training as blind veterans, while blindfolded.
The musical score was composed by Max Richter, after taking over for Mark Bradshaw who was previously attached.
The first trailer was released on 1 August 2014. The second trailer was then released on 10 November 2014.
A book by Mark Bostridge, titled Vera Brittain and the First World War: The Story of Testament of Youth, was published by Bloomsbury Publishing on 4 December 2014. The book includes a chapter on the making of the film.
The film was released in wide distribution in the UK on 16 January 2015. Its world premiere was in The Centrepiece Gala, supported by the Mayor of London, at the British Film Institute London Film Festival on 14, 16 and 17 October 2014. On 16 January 2015, Sony Pictures Classics acquired the distribution rights to the film for North America, Latin America and Asia from Protagonist Pictures. The film was released in the USA on 5 June 2015 and in France on 24 June 2015.
Testament of Youth was well received upon its release. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 82% of 109 film critics have given the film a positive review, with an average rating of 7 out of 10. The website's consensus reads, "Testament of Youth is well-acted and beautifully filmed, adding up to an enriching if not adventurous experience for fans of British period dramas." Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average score out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, gives the film a score of 77 based on 33 reviews.