The Movie Waffler New Release Review - JOURNEY'S END | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - JOURNEY'S END

journey's end film review
In the closing months of WWII, a group of men are assigned a potential suicide mission.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Saul Dibb

Starring: Sam Claflin, Asa Butterfield, Toby Jones, Tom Sturridge, Stephen Graham, Paul Bettany

journey's end film poster

2018 marks the hundredth anniversary of the end of World War I. The final major battle of the conflict - the 'Spring offensive' - began on March 21st, 2018, and would claim over three quarters of a million lives in the following months, on both sides.

The Spring offensive provided the setting for R.C. Sherriff's 1928 hit play, Journey's End, whose original run featured a young actor by the name of Laurence Olivier in its cast (whatever happened to him?). Set among a group of British army officers in the four days leading up to the beginning of the Spring offensive, Sheriff's play has inspired several screen translations, beginning with an epic length adaptation directed by the great James Whale in 1930. A German remake, director Heinz Paul's The Other Side, followed a year later. In 1976 the play was reworked for the aerial combat drama Aces High. Jeremy Northam headlined a British TV production in 1988. Now director Saul Dibb and screenwriter Simon Reade bring Sheriff's play back to the screen, a century after the events depicted in the drama.

journey's end film

On March 18th, naive, fresh faced officer Raleigh (Asa Butterfield) arrives at the frontline of Saint-Quentin, having requested he be assigned to the company led by Captain Stanhope (Sam Claflin), his sister's boyfriend. Stanhope, who struggles with alcoholism, is none to happy to see his young friend, as his company is the latest to be assigned a revolving six day shift of defending the front from an imminent German attack, which when it arrives, will likely lead to the deaths of any defending British troops.

In a makeshift dugout deep in the trenches, Stanhope and his fellow officers have recreated the British class system, complete with a makeshift cook/butler, Private Mason (Toby Jones), who does his best to rustle up meals made from unidentifiable meat and "oniony" tea. Three officers serve under Stanhope - the quiet spoken former schoolmaster Lieutenant Osborne (Paul Bettany); shell-shocked Second Lieutenant Hibbert (Tom Sturridge); and chipper Scouser Second Lieutenant Trotter (Stephen Graham).

journey's end film

When a captured German officer reveals the date of the impending assault, Stanhope and his men are given a mere three days to prepare for an attack they are unlikely to come out of with their lives intact.

Journey's End's 'war is hell' message may have been daring and controversial when Sherriff wrote his play, but it's hardly a novel concept in 2018. What makes Journey's End stand out today is its very British take on the material, as its heroes are forced to hide their fear behind moustachioed stiff upper lips. Only the pragmatic Mason is upfront about the fate that awaits them, but has resigned himself to his fate, as have Osborne and Trotter in their own ways, if keeping their feelings to themselves like a good officer should. At the extremes are Raleigh, straight out of military school and believing his upbeat attitude will see him through, and the hysterical Hibbert, who pleads with Stanhope to let him leave to see a doctor. Stanhope maintains an air of aggressive confidence in front of his men, but retreats into a bottle to calm his considerable nerves.

journey's end film

Despite the best efforts of a talented cast, Dibb can't quite translate their characters' sense of impending doom to the screen in the way a more visually oriented filmmaker might have. Betraying the film's stagebound origins, we're too often told information rather than shown it, such as how Osborne tells Raleigh the German trench is the mere width of a rugby field away, rather than Dibb showing us this distance with his camera. In this sense, this adaptation of Sherriff's work feels like a missed opportunity, particularly given how impressive the production design and Laurie Rose's cinematography are.

What keeps us engaged is the quality of acting on display, and Dibb has assembled a group of actors who resemble the sort of thespians that might have played these characters a century ago. Particularly compelling is Bettany, whose quiet performance, which appears to be tinged with homoerotic feelings for Stanhope, might be the best work of his career, if limited in screen time. Whale's 1930 adaptation is still the definitive version of this story, but this modern update offers enough to satisfy war movie fans and those seeking an absorbing ensemble drama.

Journey's End is currently playing in Canadian cinemas and will be available on UK Digital June 1st and on DVD/blu-ray June 4th.