Journey’s End review: Saul Dibb directs an all-star British cast in this, the fifth screen adaptation of the famous RC Sheriff play from the early twentieth century.
Journey’s End review by Paul Heath.
Bringing an updated version of the seminal 1928 play Journey’s End by RC Sheriff to the screen, one which has had the likes of Laurence Olivier treading the boards in it over the years, and the four other adaptations that have appeared one the big and small screen in the decades since, is not an easy feat, but Saul Dibb’s 2017 version is totally worthy of it existence, and comes to the UK following its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival last month.
The story is set 100 years ago during the first world war, the German and British sides at a stalemate, a position they’ve been in for well over a year. The location for the story is Saint-Quentin, Aisne in northern France, a British-occupied trench specifically, sixty metres away from the enemy. Teams of men take it in turns for a period of six days, and we enter the narrative with Sam Claflin’s Captain Stanhope and his C-Company about to take up the front line for their shift. The foreboding pressure of an incoming attack are becoming greater, and Stanhope, along with Paul Bettany’s Osbourne, know that the probability of it happening on their watch is high.
Enter Asa Butterfield’s young officer Raleigh, who, through his uncle, who is positioned well up the food chain, manages to be appointed to C-Company to be positioned closer to a familiar face, Stanhope, who happens to be his sister’s fiancé. The film charts the journey of this band of brothers on these number of days, seemingly abandoned by their Commanding Officers, their future unknown.
Journey’s End is engulfing, immersing, claustrophobic cinema, a character-driven piece driven by powerful performances by an amazing cast. A clear stand-out is the lead, Sam Claflin’s failing, mentally drained alcoholic, a career-best from the British actor who shines in very scene. His Captain Stanhope, who, let’s not forget will be compared with previous performers of the role, including Olivier, is magnificent. Other key stand-outs include Paul Bettany as Osbourne, a more muted performance from an accomplished player, on a par with Claflin’s war-torn captain. There’s also Asa Butterfield who shows maturity as Raleigh, who completes the trio of leads, a glorious appearance and a stunning breakthrough swerving well away from his fantasy roles in previous years.
The imagery is murky and dirty, Laurie Rose’s cinematography reminiscent of his work on the TV show Peaky Blinders, the camera capturing the essence of the confining, suffocating nature of the piece using sweeping, bright camera moves in the opening scenes, which then graduate to more gloomy, darker, though still wonderful frames shots in the closed-in trenches where we see most of the film play out.
Saul Dibb’s fourth movie is worthy addition to a cannon to his previous efforts like Suite Francaise, and The Duchess, a film I remember we absolutely applauded here on the site. It was clearly a brave choice to bring this classic story to back to screens, one which will fittingly play in cinemas nearly 100 years to the day since the events played out, but his gamble has clearly payed off. Journey’s End is a striking, harrowing retelling of an intimate, powerful story, set during the great war from what feels like so long ago. When re-tellings are crafted this well, we welcome them always with open arms – a rightful reminder of an event which ripped through a generation, and an absolute masterclass in screen acting and direction. Highly recommended.
Journey’s End review by Paul Heath, October 2017.
Journey’s End will be released in cinemas in February 2017.