Film review: Journey’s End (12A) 5/5
This drama set in the First Word War trenches is a visceral viewing experience as the shaky camera work coupled with the robust and rattling sound effects gives the audience a shared experience with the desperate soldiers fighting for survival.
Directed by Saul Dibb (Bullet Boy, Suite Francaise, The Duchess), it is adapted from the 1928 play by RC Sherriff based on his own experiences as a captain who was severely wounded at Passchendaele.
The action focuses on a British World War One company trapped in the trenches of Aisne as Operation Michael gets underway in March 1918 and the supposed war to end all wars winds to its eventual conclusion.
It spans an intense six day period on the front line focuses on the domesticity of the dugout as the men await an inevitable German attack.
While the officers below ground dine on three course meals, the enlisted men patrolling the trenches above mostly survive on rationed bread and tea.
Much of the initial drama focuses on fresh-faced officer Raleigh (Asa Butterfield), newly-enlisted following a short training stint in Salisbury.
His doe-eyed naivety contrasts deeply with those who have been going “up the line” for four years. Indeed, one of the men ridicules him with “you’ve only been in the army for five minutes.”
Sooner after he has walked past the jeeps delivering white crosses to the fields he finds himself pulling in favours to be posted to the action and the company of Captain Stanhope, his sister’s childhood sweetheart.
Hoping for an old boy’s reunion he finds instead the stench of death and a band of brothers who are struggling with sanity.
Sam Claflin (Me Before You, Their Finest) provides a brilliant portrait as the jaded Captain Stanhope, while stellar support comes from Paul Bettany (A Beautiful Mind, The DaVinci Code) as his second in command.
Bettany is a steely-minded but solid former schoolmaster plunged into this bloody conflict and yearning for his home counties’ life and his wife and children.
Prolific character actor Toby Jones, known for roles as diverse as Alfred Hitchcock (The Girl 2012) and Truman Capote, plays Mason, a Cockney quartermaster who caters to the increasingly unhinged and despairing officers. When a German attack is imminent we only see him above ground once and the terror on his face is a testament to Jones’ talent.
The class differences of the men feature in every scene and there is a pointed disregard for the lower ranks when a fat cat Colonel (Robert Glenister) sends twelve men out on a dangerous raid over no man’s land and into German territory in daylight so that he can send his despatches back before dinner at eight.
This is an unnerving experience but a flawless portrayal of the most devastating of conflicts. As the end credits roll we are reminded that another one million perished in the last eight months of the war. Lest we forget.