Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: Jack Lowden, Peter Capaldi, Simon Russell Beale, Jeremy Irvine, Calam Lynch, Kate Phillips, Geraldine James, Anton Lesser, Gemma Jones, Ben Daniels, Matthew Tennyson
Written by: Terence Davies
Directed by: Terence Davies
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for disturbing war images, some sexual material and thematic elements
Running Time: 137
Date: 06/03/2022
IMDB

Benediction (2022)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Siggy in the Middle

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

One of the most notable English filmmakers of all time, Terence Davies (Distant Voices, Still Lives, The Deep Blue Sea) tends to prefer period pieces, but his masterly technique makes them come alive, using music, poetry, and a kind of passion that simmers just below the classical surfaces. What could have been dry, scholarly studies are instead cinematic glories.

Benediction tells the story of LGBTQ+ poet Siegfried Sassoon (Jack Lowden), who, after fighting on the front lines of the First World War, and after the death of a close friend, protested its continuation. As punishment, he is diagnosed as mentally unsound and sent to an institution, where he is treated by the like-minded Dr. Rivers (Ben Daniels), and befriends poet Wilfred Owen (Matthew Tennyson).

After his release, he lives as more or less openly gay in a creative, high society, with many sexual partners, including actor Ivor Novello (Jeremy Irvine), who would go on to star in Alfred Hitchcock's The Lodger, socialite Stephen Tennant (Calam Lynch), and another actor, Glen Byam Shaw (Tom Blyth). He eventually marries, Hester Gatty (Kate Phillips), and we see an older Sassoon (Peter Capaldi), bitter and hollow, bickering with his grown son, closeted, and converting to Catholicism.

Davies jumps back and forth in time between these events, suggesting Sassoon's searching for something that's always out of grasp, the perfect moment of contentment and understanding that can never be. Likewise, he never shows anything as obvious as war or sex; he tries to get inside the characters' emotions the hard way. Benediction is also one of Davies's most personal films, given his own view of homosexuality (he chooses to be single and celibate) and his own continued search for meaning by looking to the past. The search goes on.

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