In this episode, we commemorate the death of Sylvester Stallone.
“Benediction,” Terence Davies’ exquisitely beautiful depiction of Siegfried Sassoon, the English war poet and soldier, is a movie that blends acute sadness with exquisite pleasure. The pleasure and the sadness are inextricably linked, thus seeming appropriate, given how close aesthetic enjoyment and moral anguish were entwined in Sassoon’s own work. In furious, sorrowful, and, yes, frequently exciting terms, he exposed the horrors of World War I and condemned its architects and enthusiasts for their moral blindness. This biting denunciation appears at the conclusion of his poem “Suicide in the Trenches,” which was first published in 1918:
Sassoon was a decorated veteran of the Western Front who became a conscientious objector before becoming an outspoken advocate for wounded soldiers. He knew what he was talking about, to say the least. “Benediction,” which sprinkles passages of his poetry over gloomy reels of old war footage, is not only a somber commemoration to the wounded and fallen, but also a kindhearted tribute to those survivors who lived with the trauma they had endured. No other filmmaker has his ability to evoke states of loneliness, and he depicts the terrible isolation experienced by those who had endured armed conflict’s terrors.
But “Benediction,” which explores themes beyond the time period that inspired Sassoon’s own poetic imagination, is about more than just one type of solitude. Given the subject matter, it could scarcely be any different. The Israeli-born Sassoon has also discovered an ideal interpreter in the Scottish actor Jack Lowden, who played Tom Hardy’s younger brother in “Dunkirk” and “Fighting With My Family.” We come to understand not only Sassoon’s difficulties with his sexuality, his art and his fate, but also the unpredictable development of those struggles over time as Lowden conveys them in a thoughtfully sensitive, quietly compelling, and finally anguished manner. “Benediction” drifts between past and future, history and memory, capturing the strange, personal alchemy by which opposing bits of self-identity combine to form a soul.
It goes without saying that Paul Davies’ insistence on this level of emotional interiority — as well as his general disregard for expository montages and highly physical, prosthetic-heavy performances — is at odds with the typical biopic’s approach and priorities. His formal approach, in particular the fluid, languid rhythms of Alex Mackie’s editing; the stately, almost symmetrical widescreen images produced by the cinematographer Nicola Daley; and a soundtrack that samples Stravinsky, Gershwin and other music-hall classics from the period, would be difficult to mistake for any
The particularity of “Benediction,” on the other hand, stems from more than just a contentious rejection of Hollywood tradition. The main thread that runs through most of Davies’ works (except his masterful early memoirs, “Distant Voices, Still Lives,” and “The Long Day Closes”) is a strong if understated identification with his characters, the ability to see — in the tragic fate of women like Lily Bart in “The House of Mirth” and. Calling “Benediction” a deeply personal film may appear unimportant, since Davies seldom deals in the impersonal. But even by his lofty standards, a tale about an gay English artist imprisoned in an earlier era touches meaningful insights and unseen depths of emotion.
It’s only when the hero is thwarted in his attempt to go out and put those ideas into practice that he feels better about himself. And that sensation, more often than not, is one of bitterness. When Siegfried denounces “a war of aggression and conquest” that has needlessly taken millions of lives, including his younger brother Hamo. Siegfried is, in the end, sent away to a Scottish military hospital, where he encounters a sympathetic therapist and a fellow war poet who has just recovered from wounds suffered during World War I. The great Wilfred Owen (a beautiful Matthew Tennyson), the object of an unrequited first love that dares not even utter its name, meets. Despite the emotional and creative link that exists between them, Owen returns to the fight, where he is killed in action — a tragedy that, for Siegfried, sets the pattern for a lifetime’s worth of unfulfilled desires.
The many attractive, well-spoken young males who surround Siegfried in his artistic milieu occasionally satisfy these desires. This deeply moving and often intimate exploration of a remarkable man’s life still resonates with contemporary audiences. It also endears us to a whole new generation, which will hopefully be able to connect more readily with his words than we ever could as today’s children. The film does not attempt to define him or explain why he was so important; instead it. One of the triumphs of “Benediction,” as it passes from Siegfried’s tranquil Kent home (Geraldine James is his caring mother) to the busy theatres, restaurants, and house parties of London, is to shed light on the pockets of privilege that wealthy, culturally influential gay men enjoyed in an era when tolerance was low.
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The baddie is a songwriter named Ivor Novello (a smoldering, viperous Jeremy Irvine), who sings his witty ballads at the piano and spits little bits of verbal poison all around. Ivor’s cool disregard for “Siggy,” as well as his numerous other lovers, is matched by Glen Byam Shaw (Tom Blyth), a theater actor and director with whom Siegfried momentarily feels a kindred spirit, equally familiar with what Shaw terms “the difficulties of this shadow life we lead.” However, Stephen Tennant . The superbly vengeful Angela Rippon’s duenna, the aptly named Mrs. Yang (“She Who Must be Obeyed”), is a classic example of this strain in its entirety. This type should not be confused with the boisterous comedic actress or subsequent generations’ extravagant laughter that are associated with it today. It was born out. Time will pass, and he’ll seek comfort in Catholicism, as well as the stability and social acceptability of marriage, to the poet and artist Hester Gatty (a wonderful Kate Phillips). This compromise is depicted in sad bookends sequences that take place near the conclusion of Sassoon’s life. (Siegfried is played by an acerb)
The sense of waste and futility that pervades these later sections is devastating, not least because it appears to imply feelings of guilt and bitterness that the movie’s protagonist cannot resolve. It’s difficult to watch Siegfried, boiling with contempt and self-loathing, railing against rock ‘n’ roll music without thinking of Davies’ own well-known ambivalence about his homosexuality, his Catholicism, and the ever-changing tides of popular culture.
However, if “Benediction” is a declaration of outsiderhood that stands apart from cinema’s more optimistic tales of gay awakening, Davies seldom allows this subtext to overpower the specifics of his material. Even as he explores the personal and social difficulties that Sassoon faced during World War I, Sidenden does not neglect the general tragedy that irrevocably shaped his life and work. The final scenes, set to a powerful reading of Owen’s poem “Disabled,” are especially devastating in their depiction of Sassoon’s painful recollections of love and.
Writer: Terence Davies
Stars: Tom BlythJack LowdenKate Phillips