Terence Davies’ cinema has always had a lyrical reach, so this Siegfried Sasson biopic fits him like pen in hand, ringing with a poetic beat that forges connections beyond the everyday. This is apparent from the opening voice-over – thankfully not something that drags on for long – of Sassoon (played in vibrant youth by Jack Lowden and in bitter old age by Peter Capaldi, the cast skipping perhaps the only thing here that isn’t quite freezing despite the abilities of both stars). Archival footage from World War I is scattered throughout the film like fragments of Sassoon’s memory, soldiers watching us from history and from the trenches that Sassoon’s brother never returned from.
The poet, too, refused to back down, attempting to become a conscientious objector, defying the military elite with his statement “an act of voluntary defiance of military authority”, yet saved from a court-martial by a establishment that did not want to make him a martyr and instead sent him to a military hospital with a shell. Davies is a craftsman when it comes to elision and crossfades, rarely losing momentum as his film transitions from episode to episode, with Sassoon’s time in Scottish hospital being one of his most heartfelt. The poet first finds a kindred spirit in Dr. Rivers (Ben Daniels, the star of the film’s many excellent supporting actors), who in a roundabout way reveals that he, like Sassoon, is gay, and later meets and falls in love with young Wilfred Owen (Matthew Tennyson). Encouraging his calligraphy and tango, the bond between the two bristles with intensity, this and a pool scene providing the kind of thrill other directors would put entire movies to make.
Owen, of course, would join Sassoon’s brother in the legions of those who didn’t return, while life goes on for Sassoon as part of a London ensemble, which is, more or less, openly gay, including the popular composer Ivor Novello (performed with the astringent attitude of Jeremy Irvine, whose cheekbones are so high you’re almost dizzy just looking at them) and pretty boy Stephen Tenant (Calam Lynch) – nothing like satisfies Sassoon’s restless mind.
Worlds collide and sacrifices are noted, including that of Sassoon’s wife Hester (Gemma Jones) who married with his eyes wide open, ultimately Sassoon does not appear to be seeking redemption from himself but simply from a life that took a heavy lonely price. Alongside the film’s more elegiac sweep is a cut-glass spirit that marks many of these encounters and an uneasy melancholy generated by Sassoon’s inability to fully reconcile his own feelings that culminates in his shift from warm and full of spirit Lowden to the barren Capaldi. . That Davies can’t quite marry the two is, certainly, part of the point – that we never know the person we’ll become – but Capaldi’s Sassoon is defined almost solely by his animosity towards those around him, which means it doesn’t really. stand a chance against his younger, more dynamic incarnation and the scenes with him towards the end of the film are allowed to suck the debates life a bit too much. Everything in the early years, like the Novello costumes, is beautifully tailored and precisely cut by Alex Mackie as the film reaches its eloquent emotional climax.
Opinion left on: March 08, 2022