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Film of the Week: Benediction

MARIA DUARTE recommends a touching biopic of poet Siegfried Sassoon, whose life was forever changed by the horrors of the first world war

Benediction (12A)
Directed by Terence Davies

REVERED filmmaker Terence Davies examines the turbulent life of first world war poet Siegfried Sassoon, who became renowned for his poetry outlining the horrors of the war and his affairs with other men, in this visually compelling yet profoundly affecting drama.

Jack Lowden gives a powerfully understated yet wonderfully nuanced performance as the young, troubled Sassoon, who returns home from service a decorated hero but acutely critical of the government for prolonging the war for its own ends.

Following his public anti-war stance and his refusal to return to the front, he is sent to a military hospital in Scotland for psychiatric treatment for shell shock. There he meets fellow poet Wilfred Owen (Matthew Tennyson) and a sweet relationship — mainly the meeting of minds — ensues.

The film also explores Sassoon’s love affairs with famed composer and matinee idol Ivor Novello (Jeremy Irvine) and the outrageous socialite Stephen Tennant (an unrecognisable Calum Lynch from Bridgerton) along with his struggles in coming to terms with his homosexuality.

This ends in him marrying and having a family with Hester Gatty (played by Kate Phillips and Gemma Jones).

Full of exceedingly witty and razor-sharp dialogue penned by Davies, the dramatic scenes are intercut seamlessly with montages of horrific images of WWI, including real dead bodies, bringing into stark relief Sassoon’s poetry as you hear it recited in all its poignant force.

It also moves from the young Sassoon to his old embittered self, portrayed by Peter Calpaldi — which takes getting used to, particularly as they sound nothing alike — who has taken out all his frustrations on his long-suffering wife (Jones).

The film depicts in painful detail the misery Sassoon endured throughout his life, broken by the horrors of the war, and not being able to be himself and love who he wanted freely, as well as his never-ending pursuit of redemption, salvation and self-acceptance as he turned to religion and Catholicism.

Mournful and haunting, Davies pays a fitting tribute to Sassoon — the war poet, and the complex man.

In cinemas


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