Reviews Joyce Glasser Blessing (May 20, 2022) Cert 12A, 137 min.

Kent-born poet and novelist Siegfried Sassoon is honored along with other “Great War Poets” in Westminster Abbey’s “Poets’ Corner” under a stone that reads: “My theme is war, and the pity of war. Poetry is a pity. It is a pity for Sassoon that even during the funeral, though rewarded and adorned, he missed the glory. Wilfred Owen, a 25-year-old soldier-poet whose skill shaped and inspired Sassoon, wrote that these two famous lines perished in battle; an ending that young Sassoon was not afraid of, nicknamed Crazy Jack for his suicide in battle.

In this strikingly ambitious, albeit inconspicuous, and painfully sad film, 76-year-old Terence Davis seems to identify with Sasun’s quest for peace throughout his life as the poet struggles with his art, his homosexuality and his faith (Davis was a Catholic; Sassoon moved to Catholicism).

Despite the daring exploits of Sassoon (Jack Lowden, an outstanding), for which he received the Military Cross in 1917, his poetry stood out “unpatriotic”, conveying the brutal truth of the war with the flag. During recovery from gastric fever, partly influenced by pacifists such as Bertrand Russell; partly because of the death of his brother Hamo in Gallipoli, and partly because of the killing of his colleagues in the trenches, Sassoon refused to return to the front.

He sent a powerful, albeit treacherous letter Gone with the war: a soldier’s declaration (read behind the scenes in the film) to his commander. For Sasun, a military court-martial for treason (the death sentence) has become a platform for publishing his criticism of the victims of young people in a failed war. His teacher, Oscar Wilde’s faithful friend Robbie Ross (Simon Russell Bill), used his connections to send Sassoon to Craiglockhart Military Hospital near Edinburgh to treat neurasthenia (“shell shock”), a capitulation that Sassoon reluctantly accepted.

At Craiglockhart Hospital, Sassoon enters into a witty and meaningful dialogue with the likeable homosexual Dr. Rivers (Ben Daniels, excellent). He becomes the editor of a hospital journal Hydrawhere his poems are published and he becomes a teacher (and possible lover) for Wilfred Owen’s peers. Given the extent of Sassoon’s influence on Owen’s poetry, it’s surprising that their literary discussions get only a few lines in the film.

Blessing it’s not surprising given the title – a gloomy, thoughtful and quiet story, but Davis, who wrote the screenplay, demonstrates exceptional wit in the dialogues, especially in the lively middle part of the film, which focuses on Sasune’s endless invitations and affairs. Sassoon’s uniform is now a tuxedo, and intellectual conversations and ideological campaigns are disappearing.

As one of the brightest young things of the turbulent twenties, Sassoon, a descendant of a once fabulously wealthy Jewish dynasty and a published poet, was at the top of the guest list of Edith Sitwell (Leah Williams) and hostess Lady Atalin Morel (Suzanne Bertisch). . His affair with the bitchish, polyamous Ivor Novella (Jeremy Irwin) – Sassoon’s mother – artist Teresa (Geraldine James) warns her son that Navella has “hard eyes” – and decadent secular lion Stephen Tennant (Kalam Lynch, among many Aton Lesar) others. , dominate the middle part.

While Novel’s ego and sadistic personality attract enough attention, Tennant, the brother of Edward, a minor military poet killed at the age of 20, and David, whose Soho nightclub, The Gargoyle, purchased Matisse’s masterpiece, Red Studio, such an empty queen seems caricatured. Robbie Ross’s character is so underdeveloped that it’s hard to relate to the heroic character in Rupert Everett’s biopic of Oscar Wilde. Happy Prince. When Ross died prematurely in 1918, neither we nor Sassoon seem to notice it.

However, this relationship reveals the humble, insecure side of the strong-willed hero of the war, although this chameleon is not developed in the story.

The queue of scenes with dinners, jumping on the bed and quarrels of lovers can be intentionally tedious, indicating the form of self-punishment that Sassoon endures for surviving. But when Sassoon suffers from PTSD, Davis does not develop the idea. The middle part, so full of frivolity and indulgence that it becomes indulgent in itself, ends in 1933 with Sassoon’s desperate marriage to Hester Gatti (Kate Phillips), which was attended by old gay friends and acquaintances, including D. H. Lawrence. As we see in the film (and read in EM Forster’s novel Morris), gays married to provide cover, but Sassoon also wanted a child.

In the next chapter, oddly enough, Sassoon plays Peter Capaldi (who is not at all like Lowden) as a bitter, ugly old man who is still married to the long-suffering Getty (Gemma Jones) when in fact their marriage officially ended in 1945. He practically alienated his son George (Richard Goulding); converts to Catholicism and feels bypassed for the sake of honor. There seems to be a gap between the past and the present.

We then receive as a gift the finale of the tour de force, in which old Sassoon transforms into a younger one (played by Lowden) in military uniform, sitting on a bench in 1967, reciting through a stream of tears a poem by Wilfred Owen Disabled. The camera moves from Lowden to a person with an amputation; the voice of the poem, Disabled. This is powerful material.

Blessing lacks the integration of the poet’s work and life that enlightened Davis’s brilliant biography of Emily Dickenson, Private passion. In this film, Sassoon’s poetry is recited from time to time, usually in a voice-over, but hardly mentioned in the dialogues. Is Ivor Novel’s swearing that Sassoon’s poetry has not evolved fair? Even Sassoon’s popular novels are known as Sherston’s trilogy a fictionalized autobiography of his military experience. He can’t get rid of it and progress.

Davis fails to investigate, let alone dramatize why Sassoon was a bitter old man. Was it a professional disappointment? Did he feel bypassed for the sake of glory? Sassoon refers to TS Eliot’s Nobel Prize, but Davis does not mention the consecration of Coventry Cathedral in 1962, where Sassoon was probably invited. There in front of the Queen sounded the Military Requiem of Benjamin Britten in the words of Wilfred Owen.

In a scene at Craiglockhart Hospital, Davis introduces the notion that Sassoon has to spend his entire life searching for something, but he fails to dramatize that search. Was it his sexual identity, lost love, or was it a professional performance? Or maybe it’s something more spiritual, although it doesn’t make sense in the film that the answer was his religion.

Terence Davies powerful, witty and ambitious, if unfocused biopic of Siegfried Sassoon.

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