TIFF ’21: ‘Benediction’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Terence Davies Benediction is portrait of 20th-century English poet Siegfried Sassoon (Jack Lowden), and the first time the Davies has ever portrayed love and desire between men. Sassoon went through the war period with a pen and paper in his hand. Exploring the emotions from soldiers and the PTSD they face. The poems from Sassoon are visually executed in a beautiful way thanks to Davies and cinematographer Nicola Daley. It felt like Davies was drawing upon Sassoon’s memories throughout the film and he would use the poems to frame each section of his life. It’s an intimate and somber display of Sassoon’s life and you are transported to that period with him.

Sassoon’s attempt at conscientious objection to the war leads to his being committed to a Scottish hospital, where he meets and mentors fellow poet and soldier Wilfred Owen. Here he expresses his true feelings, as he finds comfort with Owen. They find consolation in each other in regards to their sexual identity and societal norms that have affected their growth as individuals. Davies shows Sassoon exploring different forms of love with different men. We see his relationships and the way he is treated the older he gets. There is Sassoon’s first experience with a man and it is full of love and genuine respect. Then because Sassoon feels he will never love again, the relationships he falls into after are more centred on infatuation and convenience.

Davies uses the poems to create flashbacks for Sassoon. Daley’s cinematography is set as an observational frame peeping into the life of Sassoon at first, but once we get to emotional moments, she paints an intimate, emotional portrait of scorned man trying to find some light in his life. The third act runs a bit long because of Sassoon’s relationship with his son. Or else the film is an interesting feat for Davies in honouring the life of Sassoon. Jack Lowden gives a very powerful performance and the final frame of Benediction is one that will stay with you long after it’s finished.

Benediction is a beautiful, intimate story of love and self-discovery. Davies explores Sassoon’s identity through different relationships, while adding the pressure of societal norms. There is such careful direction from Davies for Lowden’s emotional portrayal of Sasson to resonate with audiences. Period pieces manage to explore the desires and forbidden love between people. Almost everyone can resonate with these stories as these emotions are universal felt no matter the time period. Davies allows his audience to feel whatever Sassoon is feeling through the imagery and poetic dialogue throughout the film.

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