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  Benediction The Aftermath Of War
Year: 2021
Director: Terence Davies
Stars: Jack Lowden, Peter Capaldi, Simon Russell Beale, Tom Blyth, Kate Phillips, Julian Sands, Jeremy Irvine, Geraldine James, Gemma Jones, Anton Lesser, Calam Lynch, Ben Daniels, Lia Williams, Suzanne Bertish, Edmund Kingsley, Richard Goulding
Genre: BiopicBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Siegfried Sassoon (Jack Lowden) thought he was joining the First World War for a noble cause, he thought he was doing the right thing for his countrymen and women, but after enduring time in the trenches and seeing the sheer Hell of what the reality was, and how callous the authorities could be, be swiftly changed his mind. He was a poet and used his skills with writing to pen an article he hoped would be read out in the Houses of Parliament, but instead he was accused of being unpatriotic and a threat to the war effort, and consigned to a psychiatric soldiers' institution in Scotland...

Achingly sincere, as was director Terence Davies' wont, Benediction could be regarded as offputting by most audiences, yet was absolutely the film he wanted to make, that much was obvious. Mixing actual war footage of the trenches with photography of the war's victims, he set his hero in his context, wound him up and let him go, the awful irony being that once the conflict was over, Sassoon lost his relevance to the wider public in Britain until we saw him in the nineteen-sixties, played in old age by Peter Capaldi, a stoically grumpy old man for whom life has passed him by for good.

There was tragedy all over Benediction, and not only the tragedy of the millions lost in the First World War that Sassoon felt so very agonisingly. Although the Second World War is not focused on as much, the fact that it happened again must have been humiliating to him since it demonstrated no lessons had been learnt and worldwide conflict could so easily happen again: basically, no matter how eloquent Sassoon could be, there was nobody paying attention to his impassioned pleas to stop the fighting. However, you would not really call this an impassioned film: it had its passions, but they were restrained.

Sassoon's time in the hospital sees him meet fellow war poet Wilfred Owen (Matthew Tennyson) and a genuine affection builds between them, Sassoon recognising Owen's talent may eclipse his own, but feeling no grudge as a result. No romance develops, but you could tell these sensitive men would have been happy for it to, though Owen is spirited back to the front and is killed a week before the war finished, a state of affairs that Sassoon would never forgive the military nor the government for. After that, you may be wondering where the story has left to go; we have seen a flashforward of Capaldi converting to Catholicism, much to his son's disdain, but this seems to be the most significant thing that happened to him in his later years.

And it too, comes across as a futile gesture. In between, we get Sassoon's life as he starts an affair with the boy wonder of popular song of the twenties, Ivor Novello (Jeremy Irvine), a waspish character who sums up the bitchiness of many of the others and the overall tone of this middle section. You don't laugh at this much, for there's a nastiness here that Sassoon encourages in others, and it settles into a bunch of posh folks aiming barbs at one another for over an hour of screen time, again, illustrating Davies was directing this at a very specific audience, possibly mainly himself. Sassoon did get married and had a son, but it did not appear to give him any pleasure, indeed he's such a miseryguts that it's largely because we understand the bone-deep sadness in Sassoon that we sympathise with him as he dwindles into obscurity. Stylised, a little awkward to say the least, but not without its effects.

[BENEDICTION will be released on 20th May 2022 in UK and Irish cinemas. For more information, head to https://benedictionfilm.co.uk/]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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