Jack Lowden as Siegfried Sassoon, in uniform.

Benediction: Siegfried Sassoon Biopic

Posted by Speakeasy News > Tuesday 05 March 2024 > Shine Bright Lycée What's On

Siegfried Sassoon was one of the most famous of the British World War I poets but unlike Wilfred Owen, Rupert Brooke or Edward Thomas, Sassoon survived the war he had despised while serving brilliantly. Terence Davies’ final film traces both the war service and the long life looking for meaning which followed, with Jack Lowden and Peter Capaldi playing the younger and older Sassoon.

Sassoon, born in 1886, lived the life of a privileged country gentleman before the war, devoting himself to his two passions: hunting and poetry. He published several small volumes.

He signed up as soon as war broke out and was a popular officer, famed for his courage. In 1916, he was awarded the Military Cross for “conspicuous gallantry during a raid on the enemy’s trenches” on the Western Front. And so it was all the more shocking to the military establishment when he started speaking out against the way the war was being conducted. He wrote an open letter, which was published in The Times and read out in the House of Commons in June 1917, when he was back in Britain after being injured.

I believe that the War is being deliberately prolonged by those how have the power to end it. I am a soldier, convinced that I am acting on behalf of soldiers. I believe this War, upon which I entered as a war of defence and liberation, has now become a war of aggression and conquest. […]
I am not protesting against the military conduct of the War, but against the political errors and insincerities for which the fighting men are being sacrificed.
You can read the full letter here. 

Sassoon was prepared to face a court martial for his declaration, but another poet, Robert Graves, intervened and managed to have Sassoon sent instead to hospital in Edinburgh to be treated for shell shock.
That is where he met Wilfred Owen, and encouraged him in his war poetry such as “Dulce et Decorum Est”, “Anthem for Doomed Youth”, and “Disabled”, which features in the film.

Matthew Tennyson as Wilfred Owen and Jack Lowden as Siegfried Sassoon.

The General - Siegfried Sassoon

“Good-morning, good-morning!” the General said
When we met him last week on our way to the line.
Now the soldiers he smiled at are most of 'em dead,
And we're cursing his staff for incompetent swine.
“He's a cheery old card,” grunted Harry to Jack
As they slogged up to Arras with rifle and pack.

But he did for them both by his plan of attack.

You can find more of Sassoon's poetry on the Poetry Foundation site. 


Both Sassoon and Owen returned to the front, believing their opposition to the war would be more credible coming from men perceived as brave soldiers. Sassoon was again injured, and Owen died there just a week before the Armistice.

Trying to Find Peace
Benediction goes on to look at Sassoon's long life after the war (he lived until 1967, dying at age 80).  Like many former soldiers, he found it difficult to find a purpose to life after the War, all the more so because he didn't have to make a living. And as a gay man, he felt he didn't fit in. In fact, he even got married to a woman in 1933 in the hope that this would somehow make him happy. It didn't, and despite the birth of a much-hoped-for son, they separated twelve years later.

Kate Phillips as Hester Batty, who Siegfried Sassoon married.

Sassoon returned to country life and was part of the generation of "bright young things" famous for extravagant London parties. He wrote three fictionalised autobiographies as well as poetry and biography.

Peter Capaldi (right) as the older Sassoon with Richard Golding, who plays his son, George.

Another interesting portrayal of Sassoon's war years can been found in Pat Barker's Regeneration novel trilogy.

Terence Davies Retrospective
The Centre Pompidou was already organising a retrospective of Terence Davies' work before the director died in October. It is taking place from 1 to 17 March. As well as Benediction, it  will include films such as Distant Voices, Still Lives, 1988, The Long Day Closes, 1992, Sunset Song, 2015, and Emily Dickinson, A Quiet Passion, 2016

You'll find poems by Wilfred Owen, Vera Brittain, Roland Leighton and Rudyard Kipling in  Shine Bright LLCER File 5: "War will Not Tear Us Apart", a sequence on the effect of WWI on human relationships.


On general release 6 March 2024