Benediction. M, 137 minutes. Five stars.
This is a movie about an influencer who used his platforms to send woke and powerful messages about the senselessness of war to a world tone-deaf to violence and wrapped up in its own selfish capitalist desires.
Described this way, the film sounds thoroughly modern, thoroughly contemporary.
It is, however, a biographical film about the World War I-era poet Siegfried Sassoon, a promising young writer and second lieutenant whose eyes were opened to the horrors of war while serving on the Western Front.
Penning a letter that was read in the British Parliament, Sassoon lambasted "the political errors and insincerities for which the fighting men are being sacrificed", which his powers-that-be saw as treasonous, and which again feels a thoroughly modern opinion.
Terence Davies, one of Britain's greatest living directors, makes Sassoon's life the subject of this glorious piece of filmmaking: both Sassoon's war experience and the legacy of his reaction to it, but also his romantic life as a queer man.
Sassoon is played at different stages in his life by the actors Jack Lowden and Peter Capaldi and Davies moves back and forward through the poet's timeline.
The title comes from Sassoon's later-life conversion to Catholicism but like everything in this film, is dripping with metaphor.
Sassoon's vocal, negative war observations ought to have him imprisoned but his family connections see him instead placed in a medical mental health facility, run by the sympathetic Dr Rivers (Ben Daniels).
Dr Rivers, like Sassoon, knows of "the desire that dare not speak its name", and it is at this sanatorium that Sassoon meets the young poet Wilfred Owen (Matthew Tennyson) and the pair enjoy an intense friendship while convalescing.
When Owen is cleared to return to the Front, and dies soon after, Siegfried is bereft, and he pours his emotions into his poetry, and later, a hedonistic lifestyle in the between-the-wars years.
Sassoon is a serial monogamist, throwing his passion into a series of relationships, notably with the pianist and actor Ivor Novello (Jeremy Irvine), Glen Shaw (Tom Blyth), and Stephen Tennant (Calam Lynch).
But like many of his contemporaries Sassoon settles down with a woman, Hester Gatty (played by Fiona Shaw and Kate Phillips in their different timelines), who gives him a son (played by Richard Goulding as an adult) and a kind of closeted respectability.
This is a brilliant film, at times serene, at times scorching.
Unlike many of his contemporaries, Sassoon lived into a respectable old age, and so Davies is selective in the slivers of that life he coalesces into this portrait.
The characters' dialogue is as witty as Davies' subjects doubtless were.
Davies is a singular director when it comes to style. There isn't another filmmaker who quite so well selects music to lay over his work, and then milks the last drop of irony or ennui from it. Here he uses the old country song Ghost Riders in the Sky over archival footage of young men off to the slaughter of the trenches.
He gives Sassoon and Owen a highly stylised ballroom dancing sequence, and towards the film's end a Julie Andrews number dripping with cynicism - if I'm interpreting his approach correctly, and you can't always be quite sure.
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