Released on 20th May 2022, Terence Davies’ Benediction is a war/drama film following the story of famous poet, Siegfried Sassoon. Sassoon was inspired to write poetry after his return from the battlefields, and his entrance into the literary/stage world of London; he became a vocal critic of the war, after suffering a breakdown as a result of the horrors he witnessed. Hannah Walton-Hughes reviews.
Long but highly impactful is how I would sum up the experience that is Benediction. I came to the film from a place of ignorance; I knew of Sassoon’s poetry but was not aware of the many hardships and struggles he suffered along the way. As a homosexual man living in 1920s Britain, his path was never going to be an easy one.
The emotion in this film was what made it so worthwhile for me. Jack Lowden’s portrayal of young Siegfried Sassoon deserves an honoree mention; the anguish on his face, particularly in the last scene of the film, is chilling; I forgot that I was watching an actor playing Sassoon; I could easily have believed that it was really him!
However, the stand-out actor in the film, for me, is Jeremy Irvine, as the deceitful and deeply unhappy Ivor Novello, one of Sassoon’s many love interests, who ultimately proves less than loyal. Despite this, Irvine gives such a layered and multifaceted performance, that you can’t help but feel some form of sympathy towards Novello; as viewers, we just want him to make better choices. He could have been much happier if he had taken a different path.
Some of the most touching scenes in the film revolve around the relationship between Sassoon, and fellow war poet, Wilfred Owen (Matthew Tennyson). He is one of the most likeable characters in this film, who seems no more complicated than he presents himself. The scene where he and Sassoon are having to dance together in secret, for me, perfectly sums up the atrocious and unbelievable prejudices towards homosexuals at the time.
the horrific close-ups of both injured bodies and fatalities really brought home just how brutal and widespread the impact of the war was
Perhaps the most memorable aspect of the whole film is the use of real footage of the battlefields of World War One. I was not expecting this at all, and the horrific close-ups of both injured bodies and fatalities really brought home just how brutal and widespread the impact of the war was, not just to soldiers, but to their families. The haunting use of Sassoon’s poetry narrating these images/videos is extremely effective and emotive, and allows viewers to sample his work, whilst not becoming so overwhelmed by it that the focus on the film is lost.
many of the actors seem to need ten minutes to get their lines out
The main criticism that I have of this film is its frankly excessive run-time. Whilst I understand that this film deals with a multitude of sensitive issues that need to have time taken over them, I did often feel like asking for 2x speed. The last camera shot of Sassoon could have been cut by at least twenty seconds, and many of the actors seem to need ten minutes to get their lines out. Some films need two hours and 17 minutes to cover everything. This is not one of those films.
I would have liked to have seen more scenes in the present day. I feel that there are a fair number of past tense scenes that could have been cut to make room for them. Peter Capaldi and Gemma Jones shine as the older counterparts of their characters, but I feel that their shining is cut abruptly short in some places. I also feel that a fade in and out between the young Sassoon and the old Sassoon would have added even more emotion (if this is even possible), to the final scene.
Overall, Benediction is a riveting and extremely harrowing film, with scenes which have stayed with me since I watched it. It is easy to lose interest due to the unnecessary length, but if a few scenes had been cut, it would have focused our attention more acutely on the most important aspects of the story. The best word to describe this film is educational; I learned a great deal about a poet whom I had only heard of by name.
Featured image courtesy of Alex Watkin. Permission to use granted to Impact. No changes were made to this image.
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