Film review: ‘BENEDICTION’ by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

Benediction, the latest film from revered English director Terence Davies (Distant Voices, Still Lives) intelligently and movingly dramatizes the life of famed poet, Siegfried Sassoon.  The film depicts Sassoon as an artist who, despite objecting to Britain’s continued participation in the First World War and to entrenched British values, was celebrated by British high society.  The film also reveals his relationships which were often tumultuous and predominantly with men, including famed songwriter Ivor Novello and socialite Steven Tennant.

The film mainly focuses on Sassoon as a young man (Jack Lowden, Dunkirk, Mary Queen of Scots) during and just after the First World War.  Having protested against the war while a lieutenant on the frontline, he was declared mentally unfit for duty and sent to a ‘hospital for nervous diseases’.  Here, he engaged in counselling sessions with the insightful and compassionate Dr Rivers (Ben Daniels).  The sessions allow us insights into Sassoon’s character and psyche and the obstacles he faces as a gay man in early 20th Century Britain.  It’s here he briefly has a relationship with another famous war poet, Wilfred Owen.  The film also depicts Sassoon as an older man (Peter Capaldi) left bitter and anti-social by his experiences both in the war and among his loved ones.

The film contains generous helpings of Sassoon’s poetry which Lowden narrates over grainy footage and photos from the period that feature images of polite English society, eager young men heading off to battle and the horrific slaughter in the trenches.  Some of the images here are pretty confronting.

Lowden, who has a presence and charisma similar to Ewen McGregor and James McAvoy, gives a wonderful performance as Sassoon.  He portrays him as a passionate humanist as well as a remarkably witty, confident but often troubled and introspective man increasingly battling the anguish and self-doubt the twisted morals of his society have imposed on him.  Lowden also convinces as someone who could have written the evocative poetry we hear.  The supporting cast, including Jeremy Irvine as an often viciously acerbic Ivor Novello, Calam Lynch as a flamboyant and provocative Tenant, Simon Russell Beale as Sassoon’s witty mentor, Robbie Ross and Ben Daniels as the eloquent Dr Rivers are all excellent.

Davies carefully captures a fascinating post-war era in the 1920’s filled with an uneasy mix of youthful hedonism and bewilderment brought on by the horrors of the war.  The film is also bathed in the culture of the time with discussions about the merits of Novello, Bartok and West End theatre.

This slightly overlong, at times dour and even grim character study won’t be to all tastes but should intoxicate those who long for a highly articulate script and who are fascinated by the mind of an artist.

Nick’s rating:    1/2.

Genre: Biopic/ drama.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Terrence Davies.

Release date: 9th June 2022.

Running time: 137 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.



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