It might take a moment to recognize Kit Harington and Alicia Vikander—Game of Thrones‘ medieval Jon Snow and Ex Machina‘s plastic Ava, respectively—in Testament of Youth, what with their period, Downton Abbey-style garb. Vikander plays Vera Brittain, the independent free-thinker whose life and 1933 best-selling memoir is the basis of the film. As a young woman, Vera challenges society and her family’s expectations and goes to Oxford to study literature and became a writer. But she can’t help but fall for Harington’s Roland Leighton, the charming and soulful lad with limitless potential. But just as their bright futures are falling into place, war with Germany breaks out and an entire generation of young men march off to war—a war that both sides expected to be brief and glorious.
The actual costs of World War I were unfathomable to the initially enthusiastic combatants in 1914, and before the exhausted warring parties signed the armistice in 1917, an entire generation of young men was practically erased. Brittain left her studies at Oxford to serve as a nurse near the front, and her book, published two decades after the war began, is one of the best eyewitness accounts of the war years from a female’s perspective. “It’s a little bit like one of the great Russian novels in the sense that you have individuals experiencing a great tide of history that they are powerless to do anything about,” said screenwriter Juliette Towhidi (Calendar Girls), in the film’s press release. “Vera’s very personal journey set against this extraordinary epic backdrop of the war is what I think makes the story really special.”
In this exclusive scene, the dapper, dashing Roland finds his nerve and expresses his intentions—to the slightly suppressed degree one might in 1914—to Vera, who can’t suppress her own attraction. Perhaps this is their last shining moment of innocence, before the dark clouds of war descend.
Testament of Youth, which was directed by James Kent and also stars Taron Egerton, Emily Watson, Dominic Cooper, Haley Atwell, and Miranda Richardson, opens in the U.S. on June 5. Vikander, who nabbed the role after Saoirse Ronan backed out due to a scheduling conflict, was already nominated for a BAFTA Best Actress Award for her performance. “You simply sink into those eyes and the luminosity Alicia possesses is not something many young actresses of her age would have,” said Kent. “What you inherit with Alicia is a young woman with tremendous emotional awareness and intuition of what Vera was going through. Vera Brittain was determined, honest, passionate, driven; and in some respects, intolerant. You need an actress of real fortitude to deliver that which Alicia has great reserves of.”
Here’s a look at the promising trailer.