Film & TV

Film Review: Benediction

Terence Davies’s highly anticipated film based on the life of poet Siegfried Sassoon

Terence Davies is widely regarded as one of Britain’s greatest living film directors. As his canon includes only nine feature films, this moniker is a testament to the quality of his work.
With his latest film Benediction, Davies looks at the life of poet Siegfried Sassoon.

Born in 1886, Sassoon read history at Cambridge, but soon took to writing, particularly poetry. He served in the army during World War 1 although became disillusioned as the war progressed. His most famous and endearing poetry is that shaped by his war experiences.

Davies has not made a cradle-to-grave bio-pic. Rather, he has taken the experiences and moments that most shaped Sassoon and his work, and woven them into a tapestry of heart-breaking beauty. Whilst bedded on a platform of basic chronology, Benediction moves between time periods, echoing the way in which memory itself works. Poetry by Sassoon, Wilfred Owen, and others, is narrated over scenes, and the use of horrifyingly graphic film and photography from the war itself ensures that no hint of “jolly derring-do” belittles the subject or the narrative. As always, Davies’s signature camera moves and shot framing turn the most quotidian scenes into moments that take the breath away.

Jack Lowden gives a career-defining performance as Sassoon – soldier, objector, son, loyal friend, awarded poet, husband, father, and queer man. Throughout Lowden brings a consistency to Sassoon’s character that pulls his many faces together to make absolute psychological sense. As the older Sassoon, the wonderful Peter Capaldi delivers as only he can. Sassoon’s various lovers included the surprisingly unpleasant and narcissistic Ivor Novello, brought darkly to life by Jeremy Irvine, who plays him with a touch of malicious humour, and Stephen Tennant portrayed masterfully by both Calam Lynch and the ever-reliable Anton Lesser. Every role is perfectly cast and the ensemble includes such luminaries as Geraldine James, Gemma Jones, and Simon Russell Beale as Sassoon’s great friend, Robbie Ross.

Benediction is richly satisfying in both narrative and visual terms. It is a portrait of a man, and of a time. And it is yet more evidence of the seemingly inexhaustible genius of Terence Davies.

Benediction opens on June 9th.

Richly satisfying 5 stars

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