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MOVIES (GFF 2022): Benediction - Review

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Benediction is the latest film from Terence Davies that hones in on English poet, writer and soldier Siegfried Sassoon, played by Jack Lowden, featuring an all-star cast that includes Peter Capaldi, Jeremy Irvine and Simon Russell Beal. It’s no stranger to Davies’ wheelhouse of an elegy for a past that doesn’t exist anymore, and the focus on Sassoon takes us to World War 1 and the aftermath of it.

Themes of grief and regret play a forefront in this biographical connection of guilt and inner reflection. It feels dreamy, swoony and soul-piercing – a personal film that isn’t shy to hide that it’s as much about Davies himself as it is about Sassoon, and the film feels equally stunning and befitting of such an artist at play – his relationship with homosexuality and religion is explored in a way that feels like a running commentary on a complex richness of his lived-in reality despite, for all intents and purposes, being a Sassoon biopic.

Everything is completely absorbing and the film finds an ability to get the most out of poetry as a very concept – for those looking for comparable works, fans of Whit Stillman will find themselves right at home here with Davies really maximising Nicola Daley’s stunning cinematography to craft a breathtaking world that feels truly and honestly real. As we already know, Jack Lowden is brilliant but this might be his best performance yet – anchoring the lead role with all the charisma that it requires – employing a deft hand where necessary. Capaldi plays an older Sassoon who gets his mannerisms spot on (they’re both Scottish actors, for bonus points) – and his reaction to living in a different era to what he grew up in feels perfectly on point and well-timed.

Davies is a director who has been on form for years and no stranger to delivering a personal approach in the guise of a biopic about someone else but Benediction only works wonders because of that. It’s meticulously brilliant and well-captured, with amazing thought put into creating figures that feel real, human and deeply powerful. There’s an element of sadness that runs coherently throughout Benediction and plays into its themes – it’s not an easy movie to watch and feels completely melancholic in its approach to that – sombre and reflective rather than optimistic.

The moral and spiritual failures of war and how that is affected on the judgement of man lie heavy over Sassoon’s character as we explore his relationships with various different men – all of them at least, from his perspective, unhappy ones – and the film plays into his guilt that he has carried with him as he keeps asking himself why he didn’t do more to stand up to the war that feels lurking in the background on every scene, its heavy shadow feeling inescapable from beginning to end.

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