Chicago Critics Film Festival: Benediction Review

Films that present challenges faced in the 20th century speak to me. This is especially true when it comes to issues of power and authority. In these movies, one or more of the characters are typically on a quest to seek some accomplishment. In Benediction, however, it is about acceptance. Benediction is a tale that evokes many emotions, and its introduction is like the opening of a program on The History Channel. By showing war archives, the audience feels they are in the period in which the film is set. For Poet Siegfried Sassoon, the story of Benediction tells a melancholy tale that is one of most beautiful and heavy themes I have seen presented recently in dramatic filmmaking.

Director Terence Davies is known to direct films where emotions run deep. Benediction presents fragments of different emotions in various time frames in the eyes of Sassoon. I experienced mixed emotions throughout the film because I kept wondering what my gut was telling me during the melancholy scenes. The film is audacious with negativity, happiness, and withdrawals. The film portrays a positive outlook, and then heartbreak. That goes on repeatedly, and there is no clear answer for whether Benediction is designed to make its viewers feel upbeat or down. My mind is still boggling from the roller-coaster of mixed feelings in Benediction. Davies is amazingly effective at giving a kick in the head of extreme sadness with this one.

Benediction focuses on Siegfried Sassoon. Jack Lowden plays the young Siegfried and Peter Capaldi plays the old Siegfried. Sassoon is a survivor of the First World War and finds himself in awe in the years after his survival. He grows to be someone critical and vocal regarding the war after his service. He also finds himself frustrated with his relationships. As he navigates relationships with different men in his life, he struggles to come to terms with himself. His emotions can be felt through his poetry in the film. The primary struggle for Sassoon is self-acceptance. With many dark fragments scattered throughout the movie, Benediction is bursting with emotion.

Davies’ portrayal of self-acceptance is the heartbreaker for Sassoon and the film’s viewers. There are moments which show him dealing with anger as he reconnects with people in his life and realizes some have moved on or question him. In a time where sexuality and identity were controversial subjects, Sassoon finds himself enduring the process of self-awareness. By sharing his challenges with those he feels connected to throughout his painful journey, he eventually moves towards self-acceptance.

The era of the first World War plays into the movie’s turmoil. Sassoon, in the old and the young version, finds himself exploring past relationships and discovering where things went wrong. Benediction is about having a voice, however, there is ultimately no light for Benediction. The poetic story of Sassoon will grow on the audience. It is not a pleasant film, but it is authentic in the way is showcases self-awareness and acceptance. Lowden and Capaldi both have the emotional acting chops to play Sassoon, and no one directs this film better than Davies. Benediction weaves history, relationships, and politics into an interesting tale of discovery set in a bygone era. Three stars.


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