Benediction Review: A Quietly Devastating Biopic From The Master of British Cinema

Terence Davies brings us Benediction, a remarkable and devastating biopic of war poet Sigfried Sassoon, played by Jack Lowden.

Benediction Jack Lowden


Terence Davies brings us Benediction, a remarkable and devastating biopic of war poet Siegfried Sassoon, played by Jack Lowden.

There is a fleet of films that do their best to traumatise you. They batter you in the head, not necessarily with horrific imagery, but with emotional punches that aren’t holding back in the slightest.

And then there’s films like Benediction, a rare breed of films that never sugar-coats things but also never shies away from the ugliness of life. It’s somehow a watch that’s as equally vitalising as it is brutal and unforgiving.  

Jack Lowden plays Siegfried Sassoon, who heads to the trenches of World War I and is traumatised by what he sees. His wartime poems are brutal, but beautiful. Behind them is a man, desperate to belong and find companionship, but the world isn’t kind to a man like Sassoon – especially a closeted gay man. 

Benediction Jack Lowden Jeremy Irvine

Davies, who has already spoken about how personal a film Benediction is to him, directs with style and grace. Benediction is undoubtedly a slow film; I have seen it twice and have no intention of ever watching it again, but it’s left a lasting impression on me. It’s engrossing and compelling; a film that truly devastates and somehow, feels painfully relevant despite telling a story from nearly 90 years ago. 

Lowden is extraordinary in his role. While everyone else seems to come and go, fleetingly so, Lowden is constantly there to engage us in Sassoon’s story. He brings a lot of weight to his scenes, almost as if Sassoon is constantly carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. 

Kate Phillips and Jeremy Irvine also give memorable performances, but their impact is more felt than seen. At times, it seems things simply happen around Sassoon rather than him being an active catalyst in his own life. Phillips plays Hester Gatty, Sassoon’s wife and life partner, with particular warmth and the two genuinely seem to share love or at least affection for each other.

Peter Capaldi plays an older Sassoon and the difference between the younger and older poet is like night and day. This isn’t a criticism and it’s not about looks or whether Lowden and Capaldi resemble each other. Lowden’s Sassoon is, sure, traumatised and there’s a sadness that underlines his every interaction, but Capaldi’s Sassoon is bitter and hurtful, presumably from being hurt by others for so long. It makes you wonder, how hard the life he lived must have been if it rendered him this vicious and gloomy. 

Benediction Kate Phillips Jack Lowden

Benediction is about as understated as films can be. It’s a challenging watch at times; one that rewards patience but whether the emotional pay-off at the end is high enough for all viewers is questionable. It could be too little too late as the film closes on a weeping Lowden on a bench. Davies never spells anything out for you with Benediction. You’re left on your own devices with themes and you walk away from Benediction with a new appreciation for life or even just a new perspective.

There is grace in Davies’ filmmaking. Benediction, at its best, is spellbinding stuff. But it’s long and it’s slow and, in many ways, it’s painful. Davies often hits a nail on its head with the emotional beats, but Benediction is ultimately a film about suffering, long-term misery and how unfair life can be. There’s beauty to be found in Benediction too, but it’s almost drowned out by the sheer sadness of it all. Davies asks a lot from the viewer but you also receive a lot in return if you allow yourself to be immersed in Sassoon’s mind. 

 BENEDICTION will be released on 20th May in UK and Irish cinemas. For more information, click here.

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