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Journey's End

Saul Dibb

R. C. Sherriff’s First World War play Journey’s End was first staged in 1928 and brought to the screen shortly thereafter in 1930. This new cinematic adaptation is a testament to the original text which even 90 years on remains a poignant, deeply affecting and intimate portrait of the bonds between soldiers in war. Saul Dibb (The Governess, Suite Francaise) is gifted with an exceptional ensemble cast, who each individually add a layer to this complex group of men.

“...a poignant, deeply affecting and intimate portrait”

Barely out of school, a nervous but excited Raleigh (Asa Butterfield) arrives at the front in March 1918. A state of stalemate has existed for months, although a fresh German offensive is expected imminently. Battle-hardened veterans like Osborne (Paul Bettany) and Trotter (Stephen Graham) tolerate the young man’s naive enthusiasm, offering advice and guidance, while cook Mason (Toby Jones) tries his best to make the new arrival welcome. But Raleigh’s cheerful presence is deeply unsettling for his former schoolmate, now commanding officer, Stanhope (Sam Claflin); a man damaged by war, dependent on whisky and barely keeping things together as he prepares to lead his men to death or glory.

Dibb and screenwriter Simon Reade draw our attention to the everyday details of the claustrophobia of the trenches, building texture though sound design, bringing to life a world where death is a constant threat. The humour and loyalty with which these men go on, trying to survive the situation, shines through and makes the final moments all the more devastating when they come. As a description, ‘quality British drama’ often gets glibly attached to television drama these days, but Journey’s End is a wonderful example of what that phrase truly means.