Terence Davies is no stranger to adapting stories that have their roots in real-life tragedy, ill-fated love affairs, and the forlorn pining of poets. He has a distinct understanding of the literary allusions that make adaptations like The Deep Blue Sea and Sunset Song so powerful and he has a keen eye for threading fiction through reality’s needle when interpreting the lives of poets like Emily Dickinson in A Quiet Passion and now Siegfried Sassoon in Benediction.
Benediction is a Compelling Look at the Life, Love, and Forgotten Legacy of Siegfried Sassoon
Siegfried Sassoon's life was underscored by a deep and private agony that is now available for all the world to see, but it never leaves the audience feeling like a voyeur. Davies beautifully lays out the facts and reveals the wounds that shaped Sassoon.
In Benediction, Siegfried Sassoon is brought to life in two phases of his life by Jack Lowden and Peter Capaldi, who stand in stark contrast with one another. With Lowden’s Sassoon we see a bright-eyed and charming young man who has not yet met the horrors of the Great War and, through the course of nearly two hours we see everything that transforms him into the self-loathing and bitter old man that Capaldi skillfully captures.
Davies carefully depicts the different types of relationships that Sassoon had with the men in his life; the torrid love affairs that left him emotionally wrecked by both betrayal and death and those that inspired his oft-forgotten poems and regretful letters. Even the rare moments of joy Sassoon experiences are met with caustic words and tragedy at every turn. The way Davies weaves images of war throughout the film, politely berating the audience with a reminder about PTSD is artful and magnificent.
While some of the men in Benediction get away with flaunting their interests in society, Sassoon eventually follows the path of other men like him and he marries Hester Gatty (Kate Phillips). In part, out of spite and to prove he could, but ultimately it’s a choice that drags him further into despair and self-loathing.
Benediction is a tragic and strikingly philosophical biopic. Davies infuses it with an almost lyrical quality, that takes you on a waltz through Sassoon's melancholic and traumatic life. The film also highlights Sassoon’s bitterness about never receiving the sort of acknowledgment and artistic achievement that his peers received and, perhaps, at long last he has gotten the recognition he deserved. Perhaps it is the artistic benediction he sought all along.
Benediction had its world premiere this week at the Toronto International Film Festival. A release date has not yet been set.
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