Film Review: Journey’s End (2017)

A beautifully sensitive film adaptation of Journey’s End that spares none of its horror

“Smells like liver without the smooth wet look”

In all of the art that has been created around the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the First World War, it is a shame that this film adaptation of Journey’s End passed by without much fanfare last year. RC Sherriff’s play is a rightfully punishing and pummeling play and Simon Reade’s adaptation loses none of the ferocity and horror of the writing, while adding new layers of disturbing verisimilitude in its staging.

Set in the final months of the First World War in the trenches of northern France, Journey’s End follows C Company as they await orders with an increasing sense of dread. Newly arrived Second Lieutenant Raleigh (Asa Butterfield) has requested the posting as he naively wants to be reunited with former school colleague and family friend Captain Stanhope. But nothing can prepare him for life on the front line, nor the effects of war on his pal.

For Stanhope (a hauntingly excellent Sam Claflin) is unsurprisingly a shell of his former self and as he tries to duck the meeting, the brutal reality of what he has become is something Raleigh’s presence only serves to exacerbate. Elsewhere, Sherriff and Reade show how the rest of the company try to maintain some, any, semblance of normality, whether through tinned fruit, bottles of whiskey, or the desperate pleas of sickness to avoid having to go up top.

As the men around them, there’s sterling work from Paul Bettany as Lieutenant Osborne or ‘Uncle’ as they call him, still somehow impossibly good-natured; Toby Jones’ workmanlike cook Mason, full of apologies for the meagre provisions; and Tom Sturridge stands out too. For director Saul Dibb respects the source material perfectly in adding nothing of modern war film lingo here, no gung-ho bravado or toxic masculinity, just the scorching vulnerability of the stunningly brave reduced to the horrifically futile. 

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