BENEDICTION is at its most sublime when the action is centred during the period of the First World War and the roaring 20s. Written and directed by Terence Davies it focuses on the life of First World War poet Siegfried Sassoon, the influence his loves, especially his greatest love Wilfred Owen, had on him and his poetry.
I knew very little about Sassoon before watching Benediction and I was swept away. This is down in large part to the magnificent performance by Jack Lowden who captures the perpetual conflict Sassoon had of living the life he wants against the rigour of the time and duty to others. The cinematography adds to the sumptuous feel of the film which is punctuated by gruesome images of war as Sassoon’s poems are read. Davies’s direction never feels overbearing but allows both the words and silences to take their time to resonate with the audience. The script effortless zips between razor sharp wit at social occasions of the hedonistic 20s of which Sassoon enjoyed his share of lovers including Ivor Novello and Stephen Tennant, to puddles of paralysis when love shows up, then leaves only to be replaced by silent tears as poems are read aloud. I think the film falters when it moves to the modern day and shows Sassoon as an older man trapped in a loveless marriage with a woman and turning to religion for salvation. It just felt unnecessary and the poignancy was somehow overplayed. It is clear that Sassoon didn’t get enough time with the one he loved the most.
As Terence Davies said when he introduced the film at Flare – the audience is the final act, without us, there is no film. This film most certainly deserves an audience to enjoy both the beauty of love and the bestiality of war both shown with an unflinching eye.
BENEDICTION will be released this May 20th in UK and Irish cinemas