In ReviewBenediction

4 out of 5 stars

4 out of 5 stars – ‘Highly Recommended’
Directed by Terence Davies
Written by Terence Davies
Starring Tom Blyth, Jack Lowden Kate Phillips
2021 | PG-13 | 2h 17min
In Theaters

A highlight of film festivals this year, Benediction stars Jack Lowden as Siegfried Sassoon, one of the celebrated poets of the Great War (1914-1918). Terrence Davies directs this 2021 film biography. His directing credits include The House of Mirth, A Quiet Passion and The Deep Blue Sea.

Davies focuses on the inner life of this combat veteran and well-known writer, allowing his experience to represent in part the stunning impact of the war on his entire generation.  We meet him as Sassoon is preparing a public protest against the conduct of the ground war in Europe. Hoping for a court martial so as to bring attention to the senseless slaughter of troops, Sassoon instead is directed to a mental hospital in Scotland.

There he meets Wilfred Owen, another battle-scarred veteran, and they become friends. The medical board returns Owen to active duty and he is killed a few days before the armistice in 1918.  Prepared to look down on Owen due to a difference in social class, Sassoon is affected deeply by Owen’s poetry, and lives the rest of his own long life knowing that Owen is the better poet.

There is something about the First World War which haunts us still, perhaps related to it being so unnecessary and so preventable.

The Great War and its effect on many thousands of troops on the western front, in Russia and in Turkey changed attitudes and vocabulary about war, politicians, patriotism and death. Four empires fell during this war that embraced both traditional and 20th century weapons. And unforgettable poetry emerged.

The dead included poets Alan Seeger from the U.S., Guillaume Apollinaire from France, John McCrae from Canada, Charles Sorley from Scotland, Isaac Rosenberg and Wilfred Owen from England, among others. Those who survived into old age included Vera Brittain (nurse on the western front) and Siegfried Sassoon.

WATCH: Benediction | Official Trailer

There is something about the First World War which haunts us still, perhaps related to it being so unnecessary and so preventable. Ballad of a Soldier (Russian front), Johnny Got His Gun, Gallipoli, War Horse and They Shall Not Grow Old are a few of the fine films which bring us unforgettable images of men and boys in battle, and nurses in Mash units on front lines forever shifting.

An Alan Seeger poem was a favorite of President John F. Kennedy, one he returned to often:

… But I’ve a rendezvous with Death

At midnight in some flaming town,

When Spring trips north again this year,

And I to my pledged word am true,

I shall not fail that rendezvous.

Secondary to the war is Sassoon’s life after the armistice in 1918. A glimpse into the world of upper class educated young men, complete with casual affairs and glittering social events hosted by aristocrats. Davies is very successful in recalling this postwar period from so long ago. Authentic wardrobes, lovely estates, witty conversation with more than its share of cutting remarks, amid brittle social interactions.

When Hester Gatty (played by Kate Phillips) expresses an interest in Sassoon and endeavors to have them meet again, she opens a possibility he had not contemplated. In a touching moment, he says to her, “I have not dated women before.” She says, “I know.”

A poignant and intriguing look into the War years and the postwar letdown. Highly recommended.

Jeanne is a published poet and essayist. She holds degrees from Wayne State University and the University of San Francisco. Jeanne has taught in the CS, UB and OLLI programs at universities in the City. Her books in print include MY OWN SILENCE and WORD DANCING from Taurean Horn Press.