“Benediction” is a biographical drama film portraying the now celebrated English war poet Siegfried Sassoon’s struggle to gripe with the effect of war on his life. It can be assumed that most events shown in the film are factual, and it stars a number of actual figures from the time. Director Terence Davies employs an intentionally slow and gradual pace to his work, something that works very well with Sassoon as a person and his poetic works, and “Benediction” is an enjoyable experience for those fond of the style.
‘Benediction’ Plot Summary
The film begins around 1914, the first time Siegfried and his younger brother Hamo were both first sent to war as part of the British army. After some bouts of trench fever, he was back in service again, much to the helpless dislike of his mother. However, soon enough, Siegfried was quite done with the war, after witnessing the gruesome cruelty of it, and drafted his famous “Soldier’s Declaration,” which is read out in the film as a backdrop to images from the First World War. The letter, which contained Sassoon’s questioning of the political treachery that he felt was elongating the war beyond any point of simple defense against enemies, caused a stir-up among the administration and the man would have been subject to a court-martial which could have resulted in his execution. But, with the help of his influential and high-ranking family, something that he sternly objects to in the film, Siegfried is saved from any such predicament and is seen having to justify his actions in front of a panel of three high officials. When the man, already a practicing poet at the time, kept defending his words to this panel and denying any sort of jingoistic nationalism, he was finally ruled to be unfit for service and was sent to a hospital for nervous diseases in Scotland.
Upon reaching the Craiglockhart Hospital in Edinburgh, Sassoon started being treated for neurasthenia. Amidst a generally unwelcoming environment, as most officials knew of his anti-war stance by now, Siegfried grew a warm and friendly relationship with the doctor in charge at the hospital, Dr. Rivers. The two men spend sessions talking about Siegfried’s experiences, thoughts, and ideas related to war and its terrors. It was also at Craiglockhart that Sassoon met a young man aspiring to be a poet, named Wilfred Owen. Over the next few weeks, the two developed a budding relationship, with Owen having immense respect for his senior. A possible romance may have also grown up between the two, as they are seen sharing sparks of chemistry while they indulge in ball dancing, much to the frustration of their military seniors. This time and relationship also immensely shaped the young poet’s exceptional poetry, making Wilfred Owen the historical figure that he became. However, before their romantic interest could be expressed by either, Owen was released from the hospital and back to duty, where he died a week before the war ended, and Sassoon later returned to his usual life in England.
How Did The Great War Leave A Devastating Impression On Siegfried Sassoon?
After returning to England, Siegfried found company in art critic and dealer Robbie Ross, and through him further got to know more personalities of British high society who were also involved in art. He made acquaintance with aristocrat Lady Ottoline Morrell, and also turned her down when she made an approach on him. It was through a similar company that he first met the celebrated actor and singer of the time, Ivor Novello. The sparks flew instantly, and the two men got romantically involved very quickly, much to the dismay of Ivor’s ex-lover, Glen Byam Shaw. While Siegfried’s relationship with Ivor lasted for some time, the intrinsic differences between the two, especially with regard to Ivor’s brash and arrogant nature, started to turn sour after a while. Siegfried gradually realized that he was being cut off from Ivor’s life (literally not being on the list of invitees at Ivor’s performances), and the two finally had a harsh and ugly breakup. He also then got to know that Ivor was already committed long-term to another man, Bobby Andrews, and this further intensified the animosity. Sometime later, Siegfried got involved with both Glen Byam Shaw and Stephen Tennant, a socialite aristocrat, but ultimately chose to be with Tennant. However, this relationship too did not last long, as Sassoon could not live on with Tennant’s decadent lifestyle and life choices. A little while back, while he was still with Ivor, Siegfried had made acquaintance with a woman named Hester Gatty at one of the social parties, and the woman had instantly shown a soft and subtle interest in him. At a point when he was distressed over the failing relationships in his life, Siegfried once again met with Hester, and the two gave loving company to each other. Sassoon confided his troubled mind to Hester, and their romantic relationship only grew from there on. The couple finally married in a very private ceremony, and then continued to live together for the rest of most of their lives. Although they did have a falling out after many years, “Benediction” does not delve much into that as she is only seen leaving the house, saying that she is going to Scotland during their elderly years, and is not seen after that.
During all this time, Siegfried’s memories and traumas from the war returned to mind—both his own participation in the travesty as well as later reports of it when he had already established himself as an anti-war poet. All such mental troubles present themselves throughout the film, with images of the war accompanied by Sassoon’s poems read out. The man also kept in loving contact with his mother, whom he often visited to discuss his life or make her read his new writings. At one point, when Siegfried and Hester are gradually growing close to each other, Hester says that, judging from his writings, she had felt he would be very intense or dark, and was quite pleasantly surprised that he was not so. “Benediction” sets out to give a similar perspective on the individual that Siegfried Sassoon was beyond the poet persona that he is now known for. To get into his persona, the film largely follows the romantic relationships that he was involved in, one after the other, and such a presentation really drives the point home as well. Siegfried’s frequent search for emotional and romantic gratification was perhaps heavily influenced by the loneliness and terrible fears that had struck him during the war. Before his writing of the “Soldier’s Declaration,” Sassoon had faced the loss of friends in the army, which became one of the primary eye-openers for him. His brother Hamo had also passed away in the war at Gallipoli. Also, perhaps because of the constant losses that he had to deal with and live with, the man could never stay settled in relationships, that too after jumping in with anyone who he felt to show support and concern for a slight moment even. The film employs a jump between two timelines—his young life and old, and in scenes of the latter, Siegfried is seen to still struggle with the war’s effect on his mind and life. Although born a Jew, he had turned to Catholicism towards the end of his life, a decision that his son George did not really agree with. The birth of George and his growing up was something that Siegfried very happily lived with, as he immediately expressed to his wife after she gave birth. He tells Hester that their son is who his life will revolve around now, and Hester reminds him that he had told her the same thing when they had fallen in love. Unable to settle on any individual, thought or situation, definitely owing to the War if such an assessment is true, Siegfried Sassoon tragically remained unable to share his deepest emotions and fears with anyone despite writing his heart out on the horrific triviality of war.
‘Benediction’ Ending Explained: What Happens To Siegfried Sassoon?
In the end, after Hester has also left Siegfried, the man is left alone with his son George, with whom he still shares a close bond. Noticing his sulking father, George tries to bring him out of this mental state and perhaps succeeds only for some time. Siegfried opens up to his son about the anguish that he still feels because of the war, and also a very personal frustration at not being as celebrated and awarded as T.S. Elliot and others. Sassoon, as a poet, did indeed get the recognition he deserved as a war poet much later, perhaps even after his death in the truest sense. After some days, the father and son go to watch a musical, and after the show, Siegfried asks for some time alone and walks back home alone. He sits down at a bench that he seems to have often sat on many years back in his youth. Seated here, a young Sassoon looks at a soldier being discharged from a hospital but with both his legs amputated. In the background is heard Wilfred Owen’s voice as he asks Sassoon how he feels about his new poem, titled “Disabled,” and he reads it out loud, while Sassoon visualizes the events of the piece. Siegfried breaks into a helpless desolation as he cries uncontrollably, struck by the soldier’s condition, and definitely of the similar or worse fates of millions of people after the two Great Wars. At this point, he also definitely remembers his dear friend Wilfred Owen, whom he and the entire world lost at the unfortunate age of twenty-five.
“Benediction” makes itself not very concerned with Siegfried Sassoon’s figure as a poet, but that does not make the film lose much poetic sense. It is very well presented without seeming like a chronicle of events that happened in Sassoon’s life. Instead, Terence Davies gives it a nice enchanting flow that does make it easier to get into the character of Sassoon. The choice of using poems, read out by Jack Lowden (as young Siegfried Sassoon) and Peter Capaldi (as the poet’s elder self), works very well with the whole construction and has a very moving effect. The overall script, writing, and performances also deserve mention, as they all tie “Benediction” into a finely made biopic.
“Benediction” is a 2022 Drama Biopic film directed by Terence Davies.