Terrence Davies says it was “hard to write” his Siegfried Sassoon biopic, Benediction, because “there was so much material”.
The biographical drama, which stars Jack Lowden as Sassoon, tells the story of the famed British poet whose anti-war stance notoriously culminated in his admission to a military psychiatric hospital.
Benediction also explores the soldier’s gay love affairs with Ivor Novello (Jeremy Irvine), Stephen Tennant (Calam Lynch) and Glen Byam Shaw (Tom Blyth), as well as his conversion to Catholicism.
Davies, one of the most critically-acclaimed British filmmakers of all time, tells GAY TIMES that taking on the project was a “daunting” prospect.
“How do you cram his life into two hours?” he says. “It was a question of what to leave out more than anything else. It was quite hard to write in that sense, as there was so much material. I tried to respond to the things which I could write about.”
The director resonated with Sassoon due to his homosexuality and poetry documenting the horrors of the First World War.
Davies also identified with Sassoon’s search for redemption, admitting: “I think that’s the most autobiographical part of the film. I’ve been searching for that redemption and I haven’t found it either.”
His only “issue” with the poet and his illustrious life, however, was his foray into Catholicism.
“Why anyone would want to be Catholic? It’s interesting because when you are born a Catholic, you don’t have to go through any time of conversion. The conversion goes on and on and on,” he states.
“It had to be incorporated because I didn’t know about that side of the church, as I was never involved in it. To manage that life within two hours…. It was those things that drew me to the picture.”
With an intimate sex scene between Sassoon and Novello, Benediction doesn’t shy away from Sassoon’s queerness. This was important for Davies, as well as depicting a less glamorous approach to sex.
“That’s what is so tedious about sex scenes, everyone has makeup on!” Davies says of how intimacy is depiction in the mainstream. “They look like they have been to the gym, and nobody ever gets cramps. Nobody ever farts!
“That’s why I almost wanted to make this more matter-of-fact.”
Benediction has received universal critical acclaim for Davies’ direction and script, as well as for the performances of Lowden and Peter Capaldi, who portrays an older Siegfried Sassoon.
Davies, whose filmography includes lauded autobiographical dramas such as Distant Voices, Still Lives, The Long Day Closes and Of Time and the City, reveals that his next film is based on Stefan Zwieg’s The Post Office Girl.
The novel chronicles the story of Christine Hoflehner, a post-office clerk in an impoverished post-World War I Austrian city.
“The script is done. I would love to do that as it’s a marvellous novel,” he says. “A novel that he never finished, he just tinkered with it. It gives the ending the most extraordinary, ambitious ending which is terrific.
“It’s about the destruction of hope and it’s very powerful.”
Benediction is now available in UK cinemas.