Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Journey's End (2017 Film)


Directed by Saul Dibb
Adapted from the 1928 R.C. Sheriff Play
Michael Hanlon, Reviewer


C Company Rotating into the Front Line

Journey's End is a 2017 film presentation of the 1928 play of the same title by British war veteran R.C. Sheriff. It came and went without much ado during the last year of the Great War's centennial. I was a little hesitant in getting around to viewing it myself because of my memories of a dismal 1988 TV version that was basically a filmed stage production. The solitary set of that film and the original play was a dark and dreary officers' dugout.

Happily, I had the opportunity to view the 2017 version recently. I discovered that director Saul Dibb and his screenwriter, Simon Reade, chose to add some scenes that allow the viewer and the characters to get outside that confining dugout to breathe a little and engage the men of C Company and their superiors. It's a much more dynamic presentation, much in the cinematic spirit of contemporary British war films like 1917 and Dunkirk.

The story told is a familiar and grim one. Somewhere on the Western Front, it's the spring of 1918 and everyone knows the Germans are about to mount a major attack. C Company is rotated into the front line with the enemy offensive expected soon. Its commander holds orders to defend the line at all costs and not to expect reinforcements. The officers display stiff upper lips before the men, but in their dugout all the stress of the war and the knowledge of what's coming cause them to drop their command faces and reveal their apprehensions as (spoiler alert) their doom approaches.

The cast is uniformly excellent: Sam Claflin as heavy-drinking and hot-headed Captain Stanhope (first played by Laurence Olivier on stage), Paul Bettany (the ship's doctor in Master and Commander) as his firmly grounded and supportive deputy Lt. Osborne, and Asa Butterfield, as the newly arrived 2nd Lt.. Raleigh, former schoolmate of Stanhope and brother of an old girlfriend. The naive Butterfield, naturally, gets a rapid and shocking initiation to the front.

One of the best sequences, a well-staged trench raid, is certainly an add-on for the movie version or a least a greatly enhanced version of whatever was presented in the playhouse. It's an exciting piece of film making in any case.  I think Journey's End is worth the attention of any of our readers and hope you'll take a look at it. It's streamable on Amazon Prime or can be purchased as a CD. Viewing this well-made film made me wish—one last time—that Hollywood could have produced something of comparable quality to recall the American effort and sacrifices during the war's centennial.

M. Hanlon

4 comments:

  1. I was impressed. Good version of the play.

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  2. I have the CD and watched it about a year ago. Now I'm certainly going to watch it again!

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    1. I agree with all the reviewer's plaudits: this is a well made, well acted movie worth anyone's time to watch. Sadly, however, the theme of the going-to-pieces officer only held together by the whisky bottle has by now become a bit of a cliché. The director and script cannot avoid this burden of course, or it wouldn't be JE, but for me it slightly diminishes the impact of the movie. I'm glad I have a copy though!

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  3. I have never forgotten the play I saw in London in 91. Sobering then as it remains. Well-done film.

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