Terence Davies’ account of the life of British poet Siegfried Sassoon is dazzling cinema and features a stunning performance by Jack Lowden.
Sassoon was a prominent critique of the British military during the First World War. Along with other poets such as Wilfred Owen – whose appearance in the film is brief but poignant – Sassoon captured the horror of the conflict and bemoaned the sacrifice of multitudes. Away from the Front, he was a conflicted individual. His sexuality was a burden, as was the weight of religion, which would prove powerfully influential later in his life. At the same time, he moved in fabulous circles and was befriended by some of the most notable figures of the 1920s.
Davies’ film shifts back and forth in time, between Lowden’s younger Sassoon, scarred by the war but revelling in a world of beautiful people, and later life with Peter Capaldi’s haunting and haunted take on Sassoon revealing a man who has turned to religion to seek solace, but finds none. Both actors are impressive, but Lowden dominates, cementing his position as one of our finest younger screen actors.
The devastation of the war and Sassoon’s sober later life notwithstanding, Benediction revels in humour that has become an essential part of Davies’ work. Ivor Novello might be a monster in make-up, but he employed his wit like a fencing foil. Contrasting these bon mots with the sights Sassoon experienced during the war lends the film even greater depth, presenting a complex, intelligent and moving portrait of a famous and troubled figure.