Based on the R.C. Sherriff stage play (and the Sherriff/Vernon Bartlett co-authored novel) screenwriter Simon Reade has adapted this well known war fable to the big screen with startling conviction. In the capable hands of director Saul Dibb, Journey’s End delivers an absorbing and heartfelt study into the lives of the men on the front-line and delivers one of the most memorable war movies of our time.
Set in the trenches at the 1918 Battle of Saint-Quentin during the First World War, young Raleigh (Asa Butterfield) has chosen to be stationed alongside former tutor and friend Stanhope (Sam Claflin), who now captains his own infantry. Plagued by the horrors of war, Stanhope struggles to keep it together as his right-hand man Osborne (Paul Bettany) and his men (Stephen Graham, Tom Sturridge, Toby Jones) prepare for the front-line.
The strength of the film stems from the chemistry cultivated between the cast. Using actors from different backgrounds conjures up exactly the right atmosphere needed. You have men from backgrounds of wealth and stature alongside the common man, thrown together in the bleakest of circumstance, but who are united in plight. Sam Claflin (Me Before You) continues to deliver, and leads the film exceptionally well. Paul Bettany (Captain America: Civil War) delivers his greatest performance to date. Young Asa Butterfield (x+y) continues to shine and Stephen Graham and Tom Sturridge are always assured talents. There are even nuggets of comedy to be found from the peerless Toby Jones. A finer ensemble you’ll struggle to find this year, I suspect.
The film is also breathtakingly shot. The camera is always fixed tightly on its cast, conveying the cramped and confined environment of the bunkers to startlingly good effect. No shot is wasted as Dibb always finds the strained humanity at the core of every scene. It’s a cliché thrown around a lot, but Journey’s End really makes you part of the story – you genuinely feel like you are in a bunker which adds to the tension and uneasiness. Emotionally-charged doesn’t even come close to conveying the feelings you’ll experience as the soldiers prepare for battle.
Sincere, superbly acted and wonderfully constructed, this is the best film of 2018 so far with a richness of dialogue and form that lingers long in the soul. It’s timeless in many ways, as sad as that might seem, and to have this story resonate with so many generations is both a sad indictment of how far we’ve come as a civilisation since the Great War, but also on the flipside, how the enduring camaraderie between brothers-in-arms can inspire hope and bravery in the most dour of times. Journey’s End is unmissable cinema and a wonderful tribute to the brave souls who laid down their lives in WWI.
Cast: Sam Claflin, Paul Bettany, Asa Butterfield, Stephen Graham, Tom Sturridge, Toby Jones Director: Saul Dibb Writer: R.C. Sherriff (play), R.C. Sherriff & Vernon Bartlett (based upon the novel), Simon Reade (screenplay) Released By: Lionsgate Certificate: 12A Duration: 107 mins Release Date: 2nd February 2018