David at the Movies: Anthem for doomed youth
Brownie points to Netflix for sponsoring this movie, which must have only limited appeal even to older gay viewers. Jack Lowden stars as World War One poet Siegfried Sassoon (Jack Lowden), whose emotional and sexual life director Terence Davies explores in this gloomy biopic. After publishing a letter condemning the military chiefs for the appalling death toll the conflict has brought, Sassoon is lucky not to be shot as a traitor; they send him to a mental institution where he meets and falls in love with fellow poet Wilfred Owen who’s suffering from shell-shock (as PTSD was called in those dark days). Owen is sent back to die in Picardy in the last week of the war. The screenplay skates past Sassoon’s brief return to active service.
After the war Siegfried has a brief affair with Ivor Novello (Jeremy Irvine), shown here as the uber-bitch in London’s far-from-discreet gay set. Siegfried has a longer but equally unhappy affair with upper-crust socialite Stephen Tennant (Calam Lynch), the model for Sebastian Flyte in Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited. Unhappy with homosexual life and converting to Catholicism, Sassoon marries. Flash-forward to his later life shows Sassoon (now played by Peter Capaldi) at odds with his wife and their son.
Throughout the movie Davies inserts horrific glimpses of battle casualties which never cease to haunt Sassoon. His poems are voice-overed from time to time, although two poems of Owen’s make it clear that Sassoon was somewhat Second Division in comparison.
This is a beautifully shot movie, and all the cast perfectly evoke the look and feel of the 1920s and 30s, but the scriptwriter’s prevailing tone is depressing. Male lovers and a wife all fail to bring happiness to Siegfried Sassoon. A life unfulfilled; a glum but riveting movie.