SYNOPSIS: Legendary 20th Century English war poet Siegfried Sassoon’s life-long quest for personal salvation through his experiences with family, war, his writing, and destructive relationships goes unresolved never realizing it can only come from within.
Terence Davies is an accomplished film director whose work is often praised and celebrated. He has a resolutely tender way of delivering emotional pieces. From the terrific Deep Blue Sea to A Quiet Passion, Davies has given us yearning realism and poetic beauty.
Going off of his back catalogue, he would surely be the perfect fit for a biopic about war poet Siegfried Sassoon in the powerful Benediction.
Well, that’s pretty much the case although, perhaps Davies’ tonal approach doesn’t do him that many favours. The quiet stillness of the piece doesn’t necessarily match the fiery tempestuous nature of Sassoon, and the character of this real-life poet sits uncomfortably against Davies maudlin backdrop.
The story of Sassoon is wrought and that is masterfully captured at times here. The poet not only has to deal with the aftermath of a war he didn’t agree with, but he has to deal with being gay in a time when it was vehemently illegal. Traveling in lavish social circles with the likes of Ivor Novello and Robbie Ross, Sassoon tries desperately to find love and somewhere to feel at home, a struggle that tortures him and metamorphs throughout the film.
Jack Lowden is nothing short of tremendous as the young Sassoon though, admittedly, it takes a short while to shake off the feeling that he is Simon Pegg. Wrapping Sassoon’s words and journey into an emotive performance, Lowden is effortlessly watchable and stirring as Sassoon grapples with an unjust law, his sexuality, and his experience with World War One. One particular silent scene towards the end is absolutely tremendous as Lowden grapples with the price of the different wars he is fighting.
The aforementioned awkward affinity between Sassoon and Davies’ backdrop is curious given that on paper Davies charmingly calm way of directing would sound like the perfect backdrop for Sassoon’s work. It falters in the true analytical moments of Sassoon because at times, he comes across as acidic and that mars the character’s emotional journey of the character.
Also, whilst Peter Capaldi is terrific as an older Siegfried, his scenes are often marred with bitterness and seem to undercut the character. Nor does the film flow smoothly between younger and older scenes which definitely ends up detracting from the emotional arc of the story.
Plus, there are some bizarre CGI choices that do not work with the exception of moments when the film is focussing on Sassoon’s haunting poetry. It ends up diluting the story somewhat with its presence.
With Jack Lowden’s blazing and stellar performance and the heart-breaking poetry truly tugging on our emotional heartstrings, Benediction is a worthy watch – though some viewers may find it trying of their patience.
Benediction is out now through Vertigo Releasing.