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film review

Jeremy Irvine and Jack Lowden.Courtesy of levelFILM

  • Benediction
  • Written and directed by Terence Davies
  • Starring Tom Blyth, Jack Lowden and Peter Capaldi
  • Classification PG; 137 minutes
  • Opens in select theatres May 27

Critic’s Pick

Jack Lowden as Young Siegfried Sassoon.Courtesy of levelFILM

No one described the horrors of trench warfare better than the English poet and soldier Siegfried Sassoon, and wisely, the writer and director Terence Davies (A Quiet Passion) includes voice-over of some aching stanzas, accompanied by archival footage from the First World War – pitiless images of, as Sassoon put it, “lovely lads and dead and rotten.”

But the focus of Davies’s new film isn’t the war, it’s how Sassoon (played first by Jack Lowden and later by Peter Capaldi) struggles to live authentically after it ends. A conscientious objector, he is appalled by the casual complacency of his moneyed class; a gay man in a country where that’s illegal, he has a string of fraught affairs. Eventually he chooses to marry a woman rather than, as another soldier puts it, “go into the library with a service revolver and do the decent thing.”

The dialogue is quietly scathing, and the production values are sumptuous. But Davies seems most interested in Sassoon as a symbol of hemmed-in Englishness. As a character, he remains poetically opaque.

Courtesy of levelFILM

Special to The Globe and Mail

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