Posts Tagged Kate Phillips

Benediction (2021)

Ivor Novello and a young Sassoon as portrayed in the film. Novello stands out in the film as an utter b***ard,

Benediction is a deeply depressing film. Benediction is the invocation of a blessing but if a blessing was invited by the characters in this film it never came. Superficially the film tells the story of Siegfried Sassoon (Jack Lowden / Peter Capaldi). Sassoon was a complex man a soldier decorated for his bravery on the battlefield who became a vocal critic of the government’s continuation of the First World War. Benediction, however is not a biography of Sassoon. Many of his key life events, such as his father’s early death and the bequest he received from his aunt and his Jewish background are not mentioned.

It’s more a meditation on loneliness, regret and self-loathing. The self-loathing may partly be traced to the aftermath of his Soldier’s Declaration of 1917. When faced with a court-martial and possible execution Sassoon allowed his influential friends to arrange, instead, that he was committed to the psychiatric ward of a military hospital (Craiglockhart in Edinburgh). At Craiglockhart we see Sassoon talk to a sympathetic Psychiatrist about his sexual attraction to men. The Psychiatrist shares Sassoon’s sexuality but seems more at ease with it. At the Sanatorium he also meets the doomed poet Wilfred Owen (Matthew Tennyson) who he mentors and encourages.

Sassoon’s fame spreads and when released his fame spreads he is welcomed in artistic circles. Some of the members of these circles become lovers, including Ivor Novello (Jermy Irvine). None of the portrayals of the gay relationships are positive. The only humour in the film comes from the bitter, caustic remarks they make about each other. None of the characters are likeable.

Terence Davies is quoted as saying “I have hated being gay, and I’ve been celibate for most of my life. Some people are just good at sex, and others aren’t; I’m one of them who isn’t. I’m just too self-conscious.” It seems that this view has informed the Director’s approach to the “shadow life” featured in this film.

Ivor Novello stands out as a real piece of work with his catty wit and brutal treatment of lovers. He eventually decides to marry Hester Gatty (in her youth played by Kate Phillips and later by Gemma Jones). This is a steady relationship and they have a son but Sassoon still appears unfulfilled and distant failing to find comfort or salvation within the conformity of marriage and religion.

.So the film is miserable. Apart from the clever but cruel wit the main redeeming feature is the music, poetry and footage from WWI woven throughout the film. That has a dreamy, hypnotic quality which has a strange beauty. I was particularly struck by no-man’s land during snow with ‘Silent Night’ playing over the top, first in German and then English.

Reviewed by Pat Harrington


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