Kate Phillips plays Hester Gatty, Siegfried Sassoon’s wife, in Benediction, Terence Davies’ quietly affecting drama starring Jack Lowden.
Phillips has previously starred in the first Downton Abbey film as well as having a recurring role in the hit TV show Peaky Blinders. We chatted to the actress about working with Terence Davies, actors looking for themselves in the script and whether Lowden is a good dancer or not.
Congratulations on the film, I know that you made it during COVID.
I think it was one of the first few productions that was up and running. No one had done it. We’re doing productions now that still have the same precautions but people kind of understand where we’re at. This was a kind of an experiment. And it’s astonishing that we started and, I don’t think there were any COVID issues, we didn’t have to stop or anything.
What was the draw for you to get involved with Benediction?
Terence. He’s one of our greatest filmmakers, and to get an opportunity to work with him, and just be in his creative orbit, turned out to be a uniquely wonderful experience, as I hoped it would be. That was always going to be a yes. The script was so beautifully crafted. And then, of course, Hester, even as young Hester, she herself has quite a marked journey. I just knew it would be a really interesting project to be a part of.
Like you said, Terence is one of the greats, he’s so legendary. But as an actor, is it scary to go into those projects? Are there any doubts, any fear?
I think everything is scary.
But then, of course, what happens is you meet the people. And what’s very true of Terence, he has a real sense of warmth to him. He’s a very warm person and he’s very kind. He’s a very, very generous director for actors. And the way he works, he’s really interested in what the dynamic between actors [is] in the space, so as an actor, he puts your mind at ease. Any fears I had were very quickly swept away.
I think he’s talked about this in interviews, and it’s something that’s very clear watching the film, is that it might be quite a personal film to him. Did you see him in Jack’s [Lowden] version of Siegfried Sassoon?
That’s not something I’ve thought about. I think that’s definitely an interesting take on it. I think it’s obvious with Terence’s work, because he brings so much passion and love and vivid imagery to it, it’s clearly a personal experience. And I think he clearly sees himself, in many ways, in these men or in Siegfried as well.
Was there a lot of rehearsals, were you able to have rehearsals because of COVID?
Yes, of course. And because of the way we filmed, almost all my scenes were caught in one take. So yes, we would rehearse. Once you’re on set, and you’re working with the actor, I think that’s a given that you’re in a closed environment at that point. Rehearsals felt quite safe. I wish there were more rehearsals for the Charleston. But turns out, it was great. And I’ve said this a few times, but it’s genuinely because Jack is such a good dancer! When it comes to those kinds of dancers in hold, you really need someone who knows how to lead. And he does.
And when you’re reading any script, do you look for yourself in the role? Were you able to see yourself in Hester?
It’s funny, isn’t it? When I read the script, I never know if it’s going to be something that I can arrive at. And it’s always a joy if you’re offered up these characters to audition for and you’re like, I found something here. It’s clearly a version of me in some ways. They’re not always a reflection of the person you present to be in your own life. But you’re like, I love this version of me, clearly I’ve tapped into something. That’s always fun. I was excited by how I could bring this version of Hester to life. What I love to do is really lean on the script and really lean on the director. And in this case, Terence knew what he wanted.
I thought was one of the most fascinating elements of the film and the script is that Hester clearly knows about Siegfried’s sexuality, they have a conversation about it and she still married him. Why do you think she did it?
That’s a question that I still ask myself, it’s not a question that’s really ever unpicked in the film itself. My take on it is that she was drawn to his soul and his work. I think she admired him deeply, and perhaps even wanted to support him. There’s a line in the film, where Siegfried says, “You need to redeem me, Hester,” and she kind of accepts that challenge. And I think that’s a really moving moment, because they go into this together with a real sense of hope and love and commitment, and hoping that that will see them through. Which of course, it doesn’t last, with all the will in the world.
Do you think she regretted it?
That’s actually not a question that I asked myself. I think I felt so strongly that she needed him at that moment in her life, and that her desire to make it work overrode what later came up, those feelings of regret? So I don’t know the answer to that question. I think when you have a child with someone you can never regret being together.
It does come at a cost for her, especially in later life. And I feel like history is full of these women who have sacrificed a great deal. Do you think sacrifice is kind of ingrained in our DNA as women?
I think, sadly, yes. In regards to Hester, it feels to me that she knows what she’s getting into but the benefits of being in his orbit really outweigh the sense of what she’s not going to get from him. I think she knows that she can’t have his full self but she can have a version of him and that will be enough. And I think, like sadly in a lot of relationships, you go into them hoping that all of these things are going to keep you together, and then they ultimately don’t stand the test of time.
What are you working on next?
It’s the second season of Miss Scarlet and the Duke and I love it so much. That’s a woman who doesn’t want to sacrifice anything of her power. It’s this gorgeous show, set in Victorian London and Eliza Scarlet is a private detective working in a man’s world and she is great.
BENEDICTION will be released on 20th May in UK and Irish cinemas. For more information, head to https://benedictionfilm.co.uk/