Journey’s End, by English playwright R.C Sherriff, was performed for the first time at the Apollo Theatre in 1928 with Lawrence Olivier – an emerging young actor at the time – in one of the lead roles. Within a short period of time the show was moved to a West End theatre where it ran for two years, and since then Journey’s End has become regarded as a classic of World War I literature. The play has been adapted into a few films as well, and the latest is directed by Saul Dibb and written by Simon Reade.
When Bosnian Serb Gavrilo Princip shot the successor to the Austro-Hungarian throne Archduke Francis Ferdinand of Habsburg and his wife Zofia von Hohenberg on June 28, 1914, events in Europe took a drastic turn, which later dragged the rest of the world into the appalling First World War. After many years of fighting, all parties were so sick of the war that they began to sign the ceasefire, however, before that, in March 1918, Germany began their most aggressive offensive against its enemies, including the British.
Journey’s End tells a “doom-laden” story of a group of men awaiting the long-rumoured German attack. The film takes the viewer into the claustrophobic and muddy trenches and, with a great authenticity, shows inherently vulnerable people facing inhumane situations. There is no glorification or glamorisation of the events, Dibb and Reade mostly draw on the tragic psychological state of the six protagonists who are faced with death. Osborne (Paul Bettany) is the even-tempered second-in-command who lets everyone call him “Uncle”, Hibbert (Tom Sturridge) is at heart a good man displaying potential cowardly tendencies and is ready to use a non-existent eye injury to get away from the battlefield. Trotter (Stephen Graham) is chubby, cheerful and supportive, Raleigh (Asa Butterfield) is a young novice unaware of front line conditions, but fervent to do his duty; Mason (Toby Jones) a good-natured cook, and last but not least, Stanhope (Sam Claflin) is the fatigued commander who is on the brink of becoming an alcoholic, and about to have a nervous breakdown.
Saul Dibb, in a poignant way, presents the complex relationship between former school buddies Raleigh and Stanhope. It’s nothing like it was before, and the circumstances they found themselves in simply don’t allow them to be youngsters anymore, Stanhope in particular is emotionally vulnerable due to horrors of war. Journey’s End is not an easy watch, it is arduous and depressing and the film vastly serves as a reminder of the huge cost of war. With the pedigree cast the film came to be a truly character driven production.
Journey’s End feels like a theatre play without an interval, the clear sounds reflect the horrors of war – single gun shots hitting soldier’s helmets, sounds of machine guns on the battlefield and heavy breathing of those about to die, all adds a great deal to the film. The well balanced music by Hildur Gudnadóttir and Natalie Holt doesn’t take over the narrative either, including the dialogue – the viewer is able to give their full attention to what the actors have to say. With down to earth cinematography by Laurie Rose (Peaky Blinders, High Rise, London Spy) and immaculate editing by Tania Reddin, Journey’s End turns into a beautifully made production, not only about the last months of the First World War but also about the lost generation. Undoubtedly, Journey’s End is Saul Dibb best work to date!
Written by Maggie Gogler
Edited by Roxy Simons
All photos © Fluidity Films
Video © BFI London Film Festival