Alicia Vikander and Kit Harington star in "Testament of Youth." (Sony Pictures Classics)

Alicia Vikander and Kit Harington star in “Testament of Youth.” (Sony Pictures Classics)

On occasion, there are too many movies out that fit to print in The Citizens’ Voice and Standard-Speaker. For those times, Rebecca and Tamara will offer their takes on recently watched movies.

“Testament of Youth” (2014): 5 out of 5 stars. Playing at the Dietrich Theater Film Festival.

I’ve been wanting to see “Testament of Youth,” based on British writer Vera Brittain’s memoirs of life during World War I, since I wrote about it earlier this summer. The film is showing as part of the Dietrich Theater’s fall film festival, and I fell in love with this heart-wrenching, gripping and gorgeously shot masterpiece.

The coming-of-age drama follows the young, headstrong Vera, masterfully portrayed by Alicia Vikander, as she pursues her dream of becoming a writer and studying at Oxford when World War I breaks out, forever changing life as she knows it. After her brother Edward (Taron Egerton), fiancé Roland (Kit Harington) and their friend Victor (Colin Morgan) go off to fight the Great War, Vera leaves school to become a nurse to tend to the wounded. She sees for herself the horrors of war, its effects on the soldiers and those left behind.

“Testament of Youth” does a fantastic job of setting up the characters and their relationships before they’re all disrupted by World War I. Vera, Edward, Roland and Victor enjoy their carefree youth – they swim in streams and take long walks, talking about their hopes and dreams – before the harsh realities of their new world set in.

Vikander and Harington share a lovely chemistry as Vera and Roland, who bond over their writing aspirations. Their romance is organic, a story of two kindred souls finding each other. The other important relationship in Vera’s life is her brother, who looks out for his sister and encourages her. These two relationships provide the emotional anchors for Vera as the war takes over their lives.

The cinematography is beautiful. Scenes of the Brittains’ home, the British countryside and the beach are bathed in soft, warm colors. The color choice extends the film’s motif of finding even a sliver of beauty in any situation, such as the bluest of blue violets growing among the deadly battlefield. Sterile whites and grays contrast with the bright red of blood in the war hospital scenes. Vikander, the heart of the story, wears a lot of soft pinks, standing out like a single flower in a field.

Under James Kent’s direction, “Testament of Youth” is Vera’s story, with close-ups that linger on Vikander’s face as she experiences the gamut of emotions, from the highs of love to the lows of loss. The flawless Vikander (“Ex Machina,” “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”) can express exactly what she’s feeling in a single look, more than most actors can with written dialogue. The audience establishes an immediate connection with her from the opening scene, a chaotic mix of cheer and heartbreak. After four years of war, the woman Vera becomes is very different from the girl she used to be.

But Vera’s story is also representative of many survivors’ stories during World War I. It still resonates strongly today as we try to make sense of the darkness and helplessness that comes with war, and as we ask ourselves if it’s worth it after all that’s lost. The tranquility of the countryside and beaches before World War I gives way to the stunning emptiness of these same places afterward.

Best known as Jon Snow on “Game of Thrones,” Harington makes a worthy leading man in “Testament of Youth.” As Roland, Harington lets the cracks of war show and threaten to break his creative, sensitive demeanor. As dedicated soldier Edward, Egerton (“Kingsman: The Secret Service”) finds strength by holding the memories of his sister and their friends close to his heart. Morgan (TV’s “Merlin”) shines as Victor, who enters the war after the others but is no less lacking in his will to fight. Also look for Hayley Atwell (“Agent Carter”) in a small but memorable role as a battlefield nurse.

“Testament of Youth” and its story of love, war and loss will stay with me for a very long time.

The Dietrich Theater Film Festival brings films to the area that may not otherwise play locally, including “Testament of Youth.” There’s one more showing of the film Wednesday, Oct. 7, at 2:30 p.m. The festival runs through Oct. 8. For the film fest’s schedule, visit