Terence Davies’ lyrical, gorgeous and elegant film “Benediction” is an unusual biopic about British war poet Siegfried Sassoon in that it jumps around in time and finds Sassoon as both a young and old man. Scholars may be left hunting for the film’s specific timeline, but the film no doubt packs an emotional wallop.
In speaking with TheWrap, Davies said that was certainly an intentional choice, and that when many linear narrative films are done poorly, they’re “incredibly dull” to watch.
“In any film, I’m interested in not literally what happened next. What’s more important is what happens emotionally next,” Davies told TheWrap at the Toronto International Film Festival. “From the first three shots in the film you can tell how it’s going to end. That’s just not interesting.”
British audiences will know Siegfried Sassoon as one of the great war poets of the First World War and essential reading material for British students. But the film charts Sassoon as a young man, as played by Jack Lowden, when he was a conscientious objector to the war effort, as well as in his old age (Peter Capaldi) after he converted to Catholicism and was filled with remorse, regret and trauma from the war. Along the way the film even charts his relationship with Ivor Novello and name drops his meeting with Winston Churchill, among many of the other countless 20th century figures he met in his life.
For Lowden, he said you can “drive yourself mad as an actor” trying to figure out at what point in a person’s life they are at a given moment, and the only coordination he did with his co-star Capaldi was in making sure they’re each using the same accent. The rest he left in Davies’ hands.
“It’s hard to tell how one changes even over a year, but the best bookmark was pre and post war,” Lowden said. “It very clearly affected him so much, the only thing I would ever really have in my head was this pre and post war, the other parts you would get yourself in a tangle, and the rest of time is Terence’s department.”
“Benediction” made its premiere at TIFF last week. Check out TheWrap’s full conversation with Terence Davies and Jack Lowden above.