Film review: ‘Journey’s End’, by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

With its limited setting, World War One drama, Journey’s End betrays its stage origins but still manages to be an intense and gripping if grim examination of the horror of the trench warfare.

Based on the RC Sherif’s 1930 play, the film depicts a small ragged company of British soldiers on the frontline trenches of France in 1918. Led by the harsh captain Stanhope (Sam Claflin) the company’s nerves are fraying as they face an enormous German push that later became known as the Spring Offensive. The film focuses on the tense interaction between Stanhope and his subordinate officers, the folksy Lieutenant Osborne (Paul Bettany), shell-shocked Second Lieutenant Hibbert (Tom Sturrridge who recently played Lord Byron in Mary Shelly) and the very young and unnervingly positive new arrival, Second Lieutenant Raleigh (Asa Butterfield) who is also the brother of Stanhope’s girlfriend.

It is important to note for anyone expecting a gung-ho war movie, this is essentially an anti-war film, there’s very little action and even a successful raid is depicted as chaotic and tragic. It’s very dialogue-heavy which could have become dull and stagey if not for Sherifs moving insightful and language (adapted for the screen by director Saul Dibb and Simon Reade) and superb performances from all cast members. Each man poignantly capture a soldier’s desperate attempt to maintain masculinity, composure, dignity and some sense of civilisation amid this soul destroying horror.

Claflin has the lion’s share of dialogue and he makes Stanhope an impressively complex character: often obsessive, demanding and volatile like captain Queeg in the Caine Mutiny but also capable of of compassion and vulnerability. He’s clearly suffering shell shock, something he tries to numb with alcohol. Butterfield captures the sense of innocent naive youth greeting war like an adventure before the hideous reality sets in. He looks like Franky Muniz from Malcolm In the Middle when he was about 14 which at first seems odd when he’s giving orders to middle-aged troops but potently conveys the sense that order has been upended in this world.

With much of the action taking place in the officer’s foreboding bunker, the film does feel slightly limited and doesn’t have the vast cinematic scope of a similarly themed film like Gallipoli. Still, Journey’s End manages to convey the senselessness of war as vividly and almost as movingly as the Australian classic.

Nick’s rating: ****

Genre: War/ drama.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Saul Dibb.

Release date: 8th Nov 2018.

Running time: 107 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.


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