Journey’s End (2017)
Dir.: Saul Dibb | Cast: Sam Claflin, Paul Bettany, Asa Butterfield, Toby Jones | UK | 107′
Saul Dibb (Suite Francaise) make great use of Simon Reade’s taut script to depict this gloomy WWI chronicle, set in a dugout at Aisne Northern France over a four-day period in March 1918.
Based on Vernon Bartlett’s novel and the seminal 1930 play by RC Sheriff, JOURNEY’S END is unrelentingly harrowing. And rather than creating a worthy and alienating throwback to the era, Dibb succeeds in connecting us to the present with well-formed and convincing characterisations of real people who we can relate to, an and feel for, rather than relics from another point in time. Powerfully projecting the narrative beyond the confines of its cramped surroundings, he also makes the threat of the impending air strikes ever-present and audible as a force just over the parapet where the men make their final tragic sortie, he also creates a love interest for Captain Stanhope in the shape of Raleigh’s sister who is captured in a pleasant vignette in her country drawing room, adding welcome contrast to the despondency in the dugout. Sam Claflin plays Stanhope, slowly losing his mind in a haze of whisky. But to everyone else he is a hero. The unit is held together by his second-in-command, Osborne (Bettany), a former schoolteacher, who is gentle and understanding, but somehow longs for his own death. Fresh from the training academy, Lieutenant Raleigh (Butterfield) pleads with his uncle, a general, to secure him a posting in Stanhope’s battalion. He admires Stanhope, who was an older pupil at his school, but nothing prepares him for what is to come. The German offensive keeps the tension as tight as the mens’ measly rations, and when Raleigh and Osborne are sent out with a handful of soldiers they manage to capture a German who will be cross-examined to confirm the exact date of the planned attack. This bloody undertaking is only the curtain-raiser for the mass slaughter that was to occur during the German bombardment. There are terrific performances, among them Toby Jones as the cook, trying to please everybody so he can stay out of the line of fire. DoP Laurie Rose (High Rise) captures the tortuous trenches where the men wait for their death. There have been many war films over the past century commemorating the mass slaughter with ultra-realism and picturing those horrifying days. But this is a grim record that really brings home the realisation that none of us is ever ‘entitled’ to peace or to happiness: We don’t have a right to anything. Remembrance is necessary, and every single record of the two World Wars offers another opportunity for us to recall the bitter events that finally united Europe. And how important that union still is. MT
ON GENERAL RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 2 FEBRUARY 2018