The Siegfried Sassoon biopic Benediction premiered last year at the Toronto Film Festival. It's the second stop on the unspoken kick-off to awards season, where major titles either launch in hopes of making a run for the Oscars or look for a buyer to head up next year's hopefuls. The film, a festival favorite when it showed, was part of the latter group and was picked up by Roadside Attractions for its North American release. Written and directed by Terence Davies (A Quiet Passion), the biopic stars Jack Lowden (War & Peace) and Peter Capaldi (Doctor Who) as the war poet Sassoon in his early and later years.
Sassoon was born in 1886 in Matfield in the U.K. to upper-class parents. His father was the scion of the Baghdadi Jewish Sassoon merchant family, though disinherited for marrying a Catholic. (The marriage didn't last, and his father died when Siegfried was young.) Still, he was part of the group educated at Cambridge in the Edwardian years and then sent to the battlefields in the Great War as an officer. The experience radicalized him, and in 1917 he became an anti-war activist, celebrated for his poetry and writings. He also came out of the closet at a time when living openly as a gay man was not done and spent the 1920s as part of the group known as the Bright Young Things.
Eventually, Sassoon retreated into the closet and the catholic faith, marrying Hester Gatty. (Their son, George Sassoon, became a famous author and translator in his own right.) The Sassoons eventually separated during World War II, and Siegfried passed in 1967. The film spans the breadth of Sassoon's life, but not linearly, flitting back and forth from youth to old age and back again, less interested in the life story and more in the moments when Sassoon reached the period of his greatest genius.
The film's synopsis is as follows:
The biopic explores the turbulent life of WWI poet Sassoon. The writer and soldier was a complex man who survived the horrors of fighting in the First World War and was decorated for his bravery but who became a vocal critic of the government's continuation of the war when he returned from service. His poetry was inspired by his experiences on the Western Front, and he became one of the leading war poets of the era. Adored by members of the aristocracy as well as stars of London's literary and stage world, he embarked on affairs with several men as he attempted to come to terms with his homosexuality. At the same time, broken by the horror of war, he made his life's journey a quest for salvation, trying to find it within the conformity of marriage and religion.
The film sports an all-star cast alongside Lowden and Capaldi. Topline co-stars include Simon Russell Beale (Persuasion), Jeremy Irvine (Dalgliesh), Kate Phillips (Miss Scarlet & The Duke), Gemma Jones (Elizabeth Is Missing), Ben Daniels (The Crown), Calam Lynch (Bridgerton), Anton Lesser (Endeavour). Other featured players include Tom Blyth (The Gilded Age), Matthew Tennyson (Grantchester), Geraldine James (Downton Abbey), Richard Goulding (A Very British Scandal), Lia Williams (The Capture), Suzanne Bertish (Atlantic Crossing), Julian Sands (Medici), Jude Akuwudike (Gangs of London), and Giovanna Ria (Babylon Berlin).
Benediction will receive its United Stated opening in limited release beginning May 13, 2022.