Reviews

‘Benediction’ Review – An Uneven Look at a Queer Poet’s Life in Early 1900s

Much like the life of its muse, Benediction tosses between the translucent and opaque, the subtle and overt.

The heart of its story has a pulse, but the narrative sometimes feels like it bleeds a little too long. Based on the life of Siegfried Sassoon (Jack Lowden), an acclaimed World War One poet, the film’s source material is bursting with possibilities, which is why its inconsistencies are infuriating.

Sassoon’s life was nothing short of complex. In a film filled with contrast and contradictions, there are many avenues the film could have gone down. To its credit, it does explore a lot of Sassoon’s writing through the themes of war and the horrors of battle that seem to outlive the war itself. Combined with Sassoon’s predicament of being a Queer man within the early 1900s, there is no shortage of inspiration.

benediction review

However, the film’s editing makes an otherwise fascinating life difficult to endure. The beginning of the film is highly interpolated with footage of war and a dubbed narration of Sassoon’s poetry. Then we are thrown into his first love with Wilfred Owen (Matthew Tennyson), which ends as quickly as it began. Likewise, pivotal moments of exposition seem to end too soon, creating a confusing dynamic that forces viewers to care for the characters prematurely.

In praise of the film, the middle third was engaging. Sassoon’s journey of navigating a poetry career within a high-brow 1920s society and dating as a Queer man is nothing short of riveting. At times it feels like words jump off the screen, and you can’t help but be ecstatic as Sassoon finds love within such a close-minded world. This section, reminiscent of The Boys in The Band (1970) with its eccentric break-ups and bold declarations of love for Oscar Wilde, feels very CAMP at the best of times, which is why the final third pacing stings. After overcoming the shortened opening of the film, just as a consistent pace is established, it slows right down, making the last thirty minutes a struggle.

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benediction review

The film is quite idyllic in the first two thirds in its presentation of Queerness, choosing to omit exploring any stakes of being Queer at the time until the final third, which abruptly changes the film’s tone. Earlier exploration would have made the last component of the film stronger. It concludes as a direct response to Sassoon having to acclimatise to heterosexuality without necessarily demonstrating the importance of his confliction about what he is giving up.

Benediction is challenging to define. The film has just as many strengths as weaknesses. With a fantastic cast, led by the charismatic Jack Lowden, it is a shame that it falls short in its technicalities. As films about poets go, Benediction does not scratch the surface of some of its predecessors like Kill Your Darlings (2013) or The Hours (2002), which is a shame as Sassoon’s poetry is up there with Ginsberg and Woolf.

Fun Fact:

Director Terence Davies was made a Fellow of the British Film Institute in recognition of his outstanding contribution to film culture.

Benediction
Story
58
Characters
57
Performances
59
Direction
50
Entertainment Value
55
Directed By
Terence Davies
Starring
Jack Lowden
Peter Capaldi
Tom Blyth
Jeremy Irvine
Kate Phillips
56
16 posts

About author
A screen studies student from the University of Melbourne, next year Jessica will be embarking on her thesis detailing the exploration of desire in Italian cinema. Jessica has been reviewing films and working with film festivals for the past few years, and is excited for their return post-lockdown. Deserted Island Movie Collection: Luca Guadagnino’s 'Call Me By Your Name', Ted Kotcheff’s 'Wake in Fright', Jennifer Kent’s 'The Nightingale' and both Argento’s and Guadagnino’s 'Suspiria'. Best Movie Snack: Cinema Nova Melbourne's home-made choc-tops and a glass of wine or two.
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