Star Rating:


Director: Terence Davies

Actors: Jeremy Irvine, Peter Capaldi, Kate Phillips, Jack Lowden

Release Date: Friday 13th May 2022

Genre(s): Drama, War

Running time: 137 minutes

Told across two separate timelines, Siegfried Sassoon (Jack Lowden, Peter Capaldi) rejects his Military Cross and is sent to a mental institution after he pens a stinging rebuke of Britain's role in World War I. While there, he recuperates and begins to examine his lifelong work of poetry while engaging in scandalous affairs. Later in life, the elder Sassoon is received into the Catholic Church and wrestles with his past...

The life of war poet Siegfried Sassoon is one that's ripe for biopic treatment. Indeed, no less than three efforts have been mounted prior to this one at capturing the life and times he lived in. World War I is positioned on cinematic terms of being a senseless slaughter when compared with World War II, yet it's also couched between decadent dramas of the gilded age that followed and the swirling romantic epics of the twenties and thirties. 'Benediction' avoids easy characterisation and instead opts for an impressionistic take on Sassoon's life.

It glides gently between the two timelines. Sassoon as young Jack Lowden is sitting quietly on a bench reflecting on his plight in a mental ward after a failed attempt at highlighting the maddening waste of life in World War I, then as the camera rotates, Peter Capaldi is sat frozen in a Catholic church and being received into the faith with all of the pageantry and sublimation intact. Both actors uniquely capture aspects of the character that are revealed in the telling. Lowden plays Sassoon like a doomed romantic, all youth and tragedy, while Capaldi plays him like a shell-shocked ghost who has seen far too much. The consequences of his life play back and forth across the story in a truly remarkable way, where Sassoon's colourful love life seems him have passionate affairs with men and women and inspire his work and poetry.

The cast in 'Benediction' is stacked with weighty theatre talent. Ben Daniels plays WHR Rivers, the famous therapist who treated Sassoon and wrote some of the defining work on shell shock and PTSD, with gentle grace and charm which makes it easy to see why he was so influential. Simon Russell Beale plays Robbie Ross, Sassoon's benefactor and agent, while Gemma Jones plays Sasson's wife in later years. As such, you get the sense that Davies' script could be easily turned into a long poem and read on a stage where it would work just as easily and effectively as it does here. There are many scenes, such as the ones where Rivers examines Sassoon in his office, where the back and forth between the actors is played almost like a call-and-response poem than an actual dialogue. So much of the dialogue, in fact, share common DNA with Sasson's work that you really get a sense of the poet's work and life not just from the actors and the story.

As biopics go, 'Benediction' attempts to examine the life and loves with an attention to detail that rises above mere reporting. Davies' direction and script really try to get underneath the skin and into the heart of Siegfried Sassoon, and examine it as it relates to his work. It's quiet but forceful, paced accordingly, and done with precision and with heart.