Rating :   ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ 

Categorisation: Drama

Availability: In theatres

Storyline: Terence Davies is considered by many to be one of Britain’s greatest filmmakers. In Benediction Davies tells the story of renowned poet, writer and soldier, Siegfried Sassoon. Decorated for his bravery in WW1, Sassoon controversially protested against the war in his poetry. He then refused to continue as a soldier, effectively becoming a conscientious objector, while publicly questioning the British government’s motivation in continuing the war. Facing the most severe consequences of being accused of treason, his old friend and mentor, Robbie Ross, has him admitted into a psychiatric institution on the grounds of mental incapacity. Sassoon is incensed and affronted by the intervention, but then develops trust in his sympathetic therapist, Dr Rivers, who introduces him to kindred spirit and fellow war poet Wilfred Owen. The growing relationship between the two poets provides some of the most romantic and beautiful scenes in the film. After the war, the film follows Sassoon’s successive relationships with men, and others who care most for him.  

Film-craft: Davies uses Sassoon’s poetry extensively in the film, meditating on the futility of war and its impact on the physical and mental state of the men at the frontline. He also makes great use of WW1 archival footage something that brings considerable poignancy to the film, particularly when juxtaposed with the superficiality of Sassoon’s post-service literati and theatre relationships. The filming is rich and finely detailed. Davies also moves across timeframes with Jack Lowden playing Sassoon as a young man, and Peter Capaldi playing him in his later years. Using a metamorphosing technique, one character turns into the other, which doesn’t quite work as there is little physical similarity between the two actors. It is also difficult to disassociate Capaldi from his previous role as spin doctor Malcolm Tucker in The Thick of It, even though he does a good job of playing the embittered older man.

Cast: Overall, the acting is very good in Benediction. But Sassoon’s male lovers are so deeply unpleasant and superficial, that it’s hard to imagine him being so infatuated with them, even acknowledging the poet’s desperate need for love and relational continuity. Creating more rounded characters might have given greater credence to these relationships. That said, Jack Lowden is terrific as the younger Sassoon. He really is a wonderful actor. 

Personal Comments: I have mixed feeling about this film. Somewhat too long, Benediction is nevertheless powerful in places. The first half is particularly good as Lowden portrays the shell-shocked Sassoon coming to grips with his confinement and also the loss of his friend Wilfred. In the end, the film nevertheless relies too heavily on the emotional intensity of the archival footage. If this were to be stripped away what remains, particularly in the second half of the film, has far less impact.


Rating :   ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Categorisation: Crime drama

Availability:  TVNZ, BBC streaming platforms

Storyline: Sherwood is the latest highly acclaimed crime drama from the BBC, and it really is quite something. Inspired by two murders that occurred in Nottinghamshire almost twenty years ago, the action is set in the mining village of Ashfield where the series creator, James Graham, grew up. In Graham’s fictional story the local police, led by DCS Ian St Clair, investigate the death of Gary Jackson, a former coal miner who is murdered in his own street by a crossbow arrow to the chest. St Clair makes it clear to his team right from the start that he wants no talk of Sherwood Forest’s famous outlaw – I guess decades of jokes about robbing the rich and giving to the poor wear a little thin after a while in Nottinghamshire. In any event, the police scour the forest in search of the killer who continually manages to elude them while stalking and shooting at more people with his bow. In the meantime, a second murder occurs, this time a recently married woman who is standing as the local Tory candidate in the upcoming election. The backdrop to the series is the 1980s  miners strike that left a lasting pall of simmering hostility in the village. The two murders rip the band-aid off the emotional wounds inflicted during the violent strike as union stalwarts and the men they call ‘scabs’, who continued to work through the strike, remain in bitter conflict. The series effectively uses this volatile political history to drive much of the action as the police investigate the two murders in the midst of menacing community animosity.  

Film-craft: This is a very fine production. Filmed largely in Nottinghamshire, it has the feel of authenticity about it. Graham makes considerable use of historical footage of the strikes and reconstructed scenes to unpack the past experiences of the characters in the drama. (If you are interested in the scandalous actions of the police in the original Orgreave strike see This backgrounding is expertly and seamlessly achieved, as we get to know the characters and their motivations. The unfolding plot really makes you want to work out who is responsible for the crimes and how the disparate events are connected. But try as we might…and enjoying every minute…we couldn’t. It is excellent crime drama writing.

Cast: Sherwood has a stellar cast, and there are familiar faces everywhere. Alun Armstrong is terrific as Gary Jackson, the provocative and staunch member of the National Union of Miners. The vibrant Lesley Manville is splendid as his wife, Julie, who is left to deal with her loss and the community consequences. Joanne Froggatt is excellent playing Sara, the unlikable Tory candidate, and Adeel Akhtar is heartbreakingly good as Andy her grieving father-in-law. Outstanding in the two main leads are David Morrissey as Ian St Clair, and Robert Glenister as Kevin Salisbury the Metropolitan police officer sent to help with the investigation. They are terrific foils for each other as they manage professional territories and personal histories. The list goes on with this star-studded cast, and they all play wonderful parts in this quality production. 

Personal Comments: Ostensibly a crime drama, Sherwood is primarily a series about the holding of grudges. Things said and done thirty years ago will never be forgotten. Name-calling, old insults and resentments stretch across history affecting lives that are irrevocably changed as a consequence. ‘This place remembers’, says one of the characters. Telling the multilayered story of just how it remembers is Sherwood at its best. The series is a big success in the UK, so if it’s not yet streaming in your region, it will be soon.  

Rohe Kōreporepo – The Swamp, The Sacred Place

Rating :   ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Categorisation: Documentary 

Availability: In theatres across New Zealand

Storyline: According to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands report in 2018, across the globe we are losing wetlands at an alarming rate. They are disappearing three times faster than forests. Once a dominant feature of our landscapes, 90% of wetlands have now been lost or seriously degraded over time. We continue to tamper with them even in the awareness of their indispensable value to society. Wetlands protect the quality of our water systems, they stabilise land and help to reduce flooding and erosion. As carbon ‘sinks’, they can also play an important role in moderating the impact of climate change. This documentary focuses specifically on wetlands across Aotearoa New Zealand. Once pristine ecosystems, they have been similarly degraded, abused and mismanaged. Disturbingly, between 2001 and 2016 a further thousand hectares of wetlands were lost in the Waikato, the Westcoast, Southland and Canterbury alone. But as this documentary illustrates, passionate people across the motu (country) are coming together to restore the life force of the wetlands. Their actions are as impressive as they are hopeful. New Zealand directors, Kathleen Gallagher and Kate Goodwin, bring the stories of kaitiaki – guardians of the wetlands – to the screen. Iwi, scientists, DOC workers, farmers, youth activists, and members of the National Wetland Trust, along with many others, speak of their remarkable work in restoring the wetlands in their local areas. And their efforts are being rewarded – the wetland ecosystems are reestablishing. Birds are returning, eel numbers are increasing, and it’s possible once again to see and hear the unique presence of the wetlands. 

Film-craft: Rohe Kōreporepo – The Swamp, The Sacred Place, based on Kathleen Gallagher and Dylan Pyle’s excellent book of the same name, is beautifully made. It weaves together knowledge about the cultural significance of the wetlands and ecological science, in a unified and compelling story of conservation. Poignant experiences of loss give rise to inspirational leadership as groups across the motu share their insights and actions. Heightening the film’s emotional impact, Dave Perry’s excellent cinematography, and a haunting musical score by Lisa Tui, Mahina-ina Kingi-Kaui, Geoff Low and Nicole Reddington, add to the impressive overall effect. 

Cast: This documentary is all about the remarkable conservation efforts of people who are committed to restoring the wetlands across Aotearoa New Zealand. The film is a tribute to them all. 

Personal Comments: In the making of the film, Gallagher does not resile from exposing the polluting actions and lack of care that have degraded wetlands and compromised the quality of water systems in New Zealand. At the same time, the film’s messages are nevertheless positive and uplifting. Gallagher and her team illustrate perfectly what is possible when committed people come together in a collaborative, and ambitious conservation effort. They do a splendid job in bringing it together. First screened as part of the New Zealand International Film festival in 2021, Rohe Kōreporepo premieres in Christchurch at Lumiere on Sunday 17 July, and then opens in select theatres across the country. Give yourself a treat and see this film.