Written by Alexander Reams
Benediction: (noun) The utterance or bestowing of a blessing, especially at the end of a religious service.
The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.Numbers 6:24–26
Benedictions are almost always used in Christianity to signify the end of a worship service. The last words you hear before you go out to eat and forget everything, it is said in the hopes that these words will stick with you throughout the week until the next Sunday when you sit in your same seat and listen to another sermon. It is a constant throughout worship services in one form or another. Terence Davies’ study on the poet, soldier, and writer Siegfried Sassoon is not a typical biopic. Davies doesn’t care about informing you about the person, presenting a portrait of a man who could not be with the ones he loved, or could not find the right one to love instead, and how it affects him at different points in his life. In such, putting a benediction, or a look of hope, on Sassoon’s life.
The film begins with a reading of one of Sassoon’s poems, with archive footage of World War I in the background, providing us with his opinion on the war even before we see him on screen. Damning the war, and himself. Then Sassoon appears, not Capaldi, but Jack Lowden, who embodies this character in every frame he appears, every syllable he utters is perfect. As a Peter Capaldi fanboy, I was disappointed that his role is a glorified cameo, however that disappointment was replaced with fascination and heartbreak as Jack Lowden commands the screen in what hopefully will be his breakout role, he has been in high profile films before (Dunkirk and Mary, Queen of Scots). Never before though has he commanded such a quiet presence that riveted me throughout the runtime of the film.
It brings this writer great shame to admit that Davies is a filmmaker who I have never dived into, and after seeing his latest, I want to dive in more. His usage of Sassoon’s poems as a way to show vignettes of his life correlate brilliantly with the usage of archival footage to continually remind us that Sassoon, while he did serve, became disenfranchised with a war he saw as unnecessary and had the guts to speak out against one of the biggest empires on the planet. The film is a message of bravery while also a meditation on heartbreak.
Sassoon’s life was filled with heartbreak. After the war he had a string of lovers, however, the film only shows in detail, 2 of them. Both of them were clearly being destructive for Siegfried and I couldn’t help but feel heartbreak for him. He wants to be loved and he wants to give love, but in a time when 2 men could not love one another how they want. This love he has is one of pure truth. One that seeps throughout the film and nearly bursts through the final shot of the film. Utilizing Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis to show a simple moment but one that is the utmost profound in a film full of deeper meaning and how Sassoon was subjected to this disregard because of who he was as a person. This shot is reminiscent of Portrait de la jeune fille en feu (Portrait of a Lady on Fire) and its use of Fantasia on a Theme is as heartbreaking as the use of Vivaldi’s Presto from “Summer” in his Four Seasons symphony.
Benediction is one of the finest films to come out this year, a meditative and personal reflection for Davies, while also breaking me emotionally to the point where I could not stop caring for Siegfried Sassoon and only wanted him to be happy in a time where he could not be. Whether due to his own personal drawbacks or the fact that being openly gay at this time in Britain was a criminal offense. I hope this film is widely seen, and that everyone who does see it comes away from it with some version of a message. I know I did, and I rarely take messages from films. Like its title, Benediction is a benediction on the life of Siegfried Sassoon, while also feeling like one for Terence Davies filmography.
Benediction was screened as part of the Toronto International Film Festival.
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