Review by Tatiana Miranda
Based on the life of Siegfried Sassoon, Benediction takes a non-linear approach to tell the story of Sassoon’s various romantic relationships, and the toll fighting in WWI took on him. Director Terence Davies utilizes found tapes from WWI that depict life on the battlefield and beyond it. These black and white clips are punctuated with a voiceover of Sassoon’s poetry. While his poetry is present in Benediction through his conversations with fellow poet and lover Wilfred Owen and performances in front of the English elite, it never truly takes center stage. Unlike other writer biopics, there are no scenes of Sassoon scribbling away furiously, throwing his trashed poems behind him.
Perhaps the primary focus of Siegfried Sassoon’s story in Benediction is his sexuality. Beginning understated and unsure, Sassoon slowly allows room for men like Owen to enter into his heart. Beautiful and innocent, Owen is the closest Sassoon ever comes to in terms of a healthy gay relationship. Later, after several tumultuous relationships with other men, Sassoon resigns and marries Hester Gatty, telling her, “You must redeem my life for me.” Even after Owen and Sassoon’s separation, the former leaves a lasting impact on the latter and his poetry. In one scene between the two of them, Sassoon reads Owen’s poem “Disabled,” which makes a powerful reappearance in the closing scene of the film.
Since the movie begins right after Sassoon leaves the military, his time in the war is never explicitly shown. It is through his poetry and the clips of found footage that the audience can see how traumatic it was for him. Through this, Davies decides to steer Benediction away from being an action-filled war movie but instead makes it a quiet contemplation on the effects of war. Even though Sassoon hardly directly discusses his experiences, his outward disapproval and the way he perceives those who didn’t fight, such as his narcissistic partner Ivor Novello, display how he feels like an outsider solely based on his experiences in the war.
While Benediction’s performances are a positive, stale cinematography mixes with uninteresting bits of dialogue, making the two-hour runtime feel like a lifetime. In an attempt to contrast the passive nature of the film, Davies utilizes poor transitional effects, as is seen in a scene where Sassoon throws his Military Cross into a lake. Although non-linear storytelling is ideal for Benediction, it is done in a very confusing manner. The jumps through time can be unnecessarily jarring at times, as certain moments portrayed turn out to be just that, a quick moment in the span of the movie. In the end, although Sassoon’s story can be intriguing at times, Benediction is just another sad LGBT+ historical drama that does little to portray Siegfried Sassoon in a new and unique light.
Benediction is now playing in theaters.