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Arts Film Review

New films: Testament of Youth and The Overnight

The big, flashy films opened early this week as they often do in advance of holiday weekends, but there are two smaller films opening today in the Sacramento market – both at the Tower Theatre.

Testament of Youth
Directed by James Kent

“Testament of Youth” is a beautifully shot adaptation of the first in a series of memoirs, written by Vera Brittain. Brittain was born in England in 1893 and grew up in a wealthy family – not “Downton Abbey” wealthy or privileged, but an upper-middle class upbringing, the daughter of a paper mill owner. If she had been a boy, attendance at college would likely have been a given, but Vera had to fight for it, convincing her parents and studying alone for the entrance exams to Oxford.

But college plans were interrupted by the outbreak of war in 1914. Vera’s brother and his boarding school chums were of a generation and class that expected dutiful service and these were the junior officers in training in a nation convinced the war would be brief and victorious (sound familiar?).

“Testament of Youth” is an account of one woman’s experiences watching the men of her generation go to war – a war she herself served in as a nurse. She watched outgoing, gregarious young men become withdrawn shadows of their former selves, or worse, and she witnessed people back at home who couldn’t begin to imagine even the things she herself had seen, let alone the experiences of the men in countless trenches.

It’s not a happy film to watch, not that it has any reason or cause to be, and it’s a little ponderous in its pacing at times. But it’s a deliberate and slow telling of an awful period – and one too often repeated. These were experiences that shaped Vera Brittain and her outlook on the world, with her later becoming a leading, outspoken pacifist.

I don’t know how accurate the adaptation is and it’s a tough project to tackle in that regard. The film includes several excerpts from letters written between the siblings and their friends, many of which were later published in a separate collection. We’re also watching events through the eyes of a single person, who published her account 15 years after the war ended and who was then told additional facts by others involved – and so, having not read the book, I’m not sure if we’re being given just the book adaptation or an amalgam of source materials. From an after the fact perspective, some of the details of some of the lives being described are only hinted at, but that may be true of the book also.

However, the general tone of the film and its content seem true to the time and Brittain’s involvement. It’s well put together in a theatrical directorial debut by James Kent and features performances by several very recognizable young actors, including Kit Harrington (“Game of Thrones”) as her love interest, Taron Edgerton (“Kingsman: The Secret Service”) as her brother, and Alicia Vikander (“Ex Machina”) as Vera. After seeing multiple recent articles about British actors in American roles, it’s odd to see a Swedish born actor playing a very English Vera – and her accent wavers a little on occasion but most likely not enough to worry most ears and not enough to otherwise diminish a fine performance.

“Testament of Youth” is a fine film and an easy pick for history and period drama fans who might not find summer fare at the multiplex quite as appealing.


The Overnight” is a simple, apparently quite low budget story of a couple who, soon after moving to Los Angeles with their young son, meet the father of a boy of similar age at a park and end up having dinner with him and his wife. But the evening extends and things get a little complicated as various boundaries are tested and broken. With very few locations and fewer complications, it’s essentially a dialog-driven four-character play, showcasing the four actors (with little more than peripheral appearances by anybody else), Adam Scott, Taylor Schilling, Jason Schwartzman, and Judith Godreche. The outcome is a light and fun, slow burning tease. It’s also a neat example of efficient filmmaking, shot quickly, with one house (reportedly Adam Corolla’s) as the setting for the vast majority of the film. It’s not for prudes or those uncomfortable with nudity and it’s a better fit for those who enjoy their comedy slightly awkward rather than big and loud.

About the author

Tony Sheppard

Tony is a Professor at Sacramento State, Co-Director of the Sacramento Film & Music Festival and a long-time writer, primarily on topics related to film and the film industry. He is an active supporter of the local arts community, an amateur photographer, and has an interest in architecture and urban planning topics. He is currently designing a 595 sq.ft. house on a very small infill lot in Sacramento.

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