two men in tuxedos
Courtesy Vertigo Releasing

The films of British writer-director Terence Davies often evoke the spirit of memory plays, looking back upon the past with an uncanny avowal that what’s happening there has lingered long thereafter. Mostly this is implied, as many of his films are set firmly in bygone days and do not explicitly reference a later distance from the central action; in this biographical threnody, however, the subject—English soldier and poet Siegfried Sassoon (played superbly as a young man by Jack Lowden), whose mighty objection to the First World War compelled his superlative verse—is expressly shown as an elderly man (played by Peter Capaldi) recollecting his life. Davies wryly intersperses such scenes among the events of his younger years, from Sassoon’s time during the war to his confinement in a psychiatric hospital in the wake of his conscientious objection to the several relationships he had with men (among them entertainer Ivor Novello, socialite Stephen Tennant, and a tentative enchantment with fellow soldier-poet Wilfred Owen) before eventually marrying a woman. The recountal is tinged with documentary footage (à la Davies’s Of Time and the City [2008]) and nigh-experimental scintilla attempting to visualize the stuff of poetry that hint at this being something exceptional from a master’s intellect, similar to what he accomplished in A Quiet Passion (2016). What it discloses of his heart, evident to any familiar with Davies’s biography, may be among the most personal revelations from an artist for whom there’s no other mode of creation. PG-13, 137 min.

Gene Siskel Film Center