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Terence Davies’ Siegfried Sassoon Biopic Soars & Surprises

Benediction is graceful, intentional, filled with good performances & ripe with English poetry that pairs perfectly with found footage of World War I.

Sexual repression is often represented in period pieces as a secret that could get you killed. That is especially the case when the military is involved and the fear for one’s life is certainly on the table in Benediction. However, it is with pure confidence and outward strength that the gay characters in this world thrive inside. Writer-director Terence Davies may have indulged with a few too many historical cameos, but he still manages to make every performance in the film one audiences can’t take their eyes off of. Both his writing and direction live in a world where the late poet Siegfried Sassoon comes to life. Benediction is graceful, intentional, and ripe with classic English poetry that pairs perfectly with found footage of World War I.


When Siegfried Sassoon (Jack Lowden) enters the war, his role as a soldier quickly evolves into that of a conscientious objector. The words he would put down in the letter to his commanding officers would go on to serve two purposes — get him sent to a psychiatric institution and solidify his future as a poet. His stay as an inpatient brings more good than bad. He finds other like-minded individuals, not just as lovers, but also people willing to think outside of the box in such a black and white world. Both his roommate and therapist offer great help in his journey. Once he is eligible to leave, many of the people Siegfried once loved are unfortunately dead, but he is truly free for the first time in his young life.

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Lowden (Dunkirk) gives a great central performance. Thankfully for audiences, the entire cast is just as good as he is, if not better. Rather than do his best historical impression of the real-life poet, Lowden embodies a sense of hope and humanity that is universally relatable to anyone who has ever wanted more from life. Lowden’s performance is restrained for a character so young, but he also makes it a point to never force condescension on his counterparts. In an era of musicians, writers, and poets he only ever gets smug when pushed to the limits, something his contemporaries cannot say. Superb contributions from Jeremy Irvine (Treadstone), Calam Lynch (Bridgerton), and Peter Capaldi (Doctor Who), who plays the elder Siegfried, make every scene a joy regardless no matter who is in it.

The script makes a point to delve into the relationship these men have with each other and not the world’s relationship with them, which is a strength. So when one of Lowden’s exes declares, “Friends may come, friends may go, enemies are always faithful,” he is referencing issues of self-hatred in the gay community, not homophobia. In these conversations, Benediction sets itself apart from other films in the genre.

benediction review

The interpolation of found footage from World War I and live-action recordings are a very welcome choice by Davies. The film begins with minutes upon minutes of found footage playing under poetry. There is a moment where one wonders how long this will go on, but it’s a simple yet effective move Davies uses to subvert expectations. Throughout Benediction — whether it be the current timeline or the flash-forwards to Siegfried’s later life — characters interact, watch, and even fade in and out of the found footage. As a story about people living in their own inevitability, such images are always striking.

Benediction is slow-paced, but purposeful to the very end. Every performance is better than the one before it and several familiar faces are putting in their best work to date. There is nothing flashy about Davies’ style and the found footage doesn’t feel obtuse; it feels imminent. The film sets out to execute a plan and does so without missing a beat. It is rare to extract so much emotion from a mostly technical achievement, but Benediction does just that.

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Benediction releases in theaters on June 3. The film is 137 minutes and rated PG-13 for disturbing war images, some sexual material, and thematic elements.

Our Rating:

3 out of 5 (Good)

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