If you like movies about literary folks, as I do, and poets, yes especially, and war, oh no, then Benediction is the movie for you.
Now I readily admit I do not like war films, but Benediction grabbed my attention when Siegfried Sassoon (Jack Lowden) sits before his ‘boss’ and claims that he hates war, he doesn’t believe in it, and he is prepared to be court-martialled and shot (!) for his beliefs. Then I settled into the movie. (Oh, by the way, Sassoon was decorated for his suicidal bravery and was respected by the men he commanded).
Benediction is a movie of two halves. On one hand, the stark photos of war are disturbing, moving and terrifying reminders of the cost of war(s). Through flashbacks and shared soldiers’ stories are horrifying details of death and dying, the emotional toll on families, and the psychiatric damage suffered by the ‘survivors’; it tears at the soul. Back in London is the colourful, dramatic and totally frivolous life of Sassoon’s literary circle: self-involved people with an overweening fascination with their looks, their affairs and each other. It’s so petty and so incredibly banal. The frontline camaraderie of a group of men trying to survive another day contrasts with home front of over-indulgent people who delight in destroying each other with incredibly cutting barbs. Even Lady Grantham would wince.
Written and directed by Terrence Davies, the film is about Sassoon and it’s not about Sassoon. The poetry was well interspersed and meaningfully connected with the narrative. Cinematographically it’s beautiful; albeit an ugly, disturbing beauty. If you’re looking for a biopic about Sassoon, then look elsewhere. But if you’re looking for a languid yet confronting movie then head out to the cinema.
In theatres now
2 hours 17 minutes