Rating : ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
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.