Journey’s End | Film Review 2017
On the 6th October, I went to my first ever premiere in London as part of the BFI Film Festival. I saw Journey’s End directed by Saul Dibb and starring Sam Claflin, Toby Jones, Paul Bettany and Asa Butterfield among others.
The Red Carpet
It was an exciting evening out and one that will definitely stay with me!
I got to walk on my first red carpet which was nerve-wracking, particularly when you have a cold and have just come from work. There were people in ballgowns carrying champagne! It was a fun evening though.
Once seated in the Leicester Square Odeon, and after a 45-minute wait, the BFI director introduced the director of Journey’s End, the writer, producer. And finally Sam Claflin and Toby Jones.
Saul described getting the movie made. The producer and writer described the links to Brexit — everything links to Brexit these days — and how World War One led to us joining the EU (among other things). And how we’re in danger of becoming Lions led by Donkeys all over again now that we have left the EU. It was all very politically charged.
Sam Claflin spoke next describing, with passion, his desire to perform in Journey’s End ever since he saw the play at University. He spoke eloquently for a few minutes and when the mic passed to Toby Jones. He muttered the immortal words: What he said.
Then the movie began and short review: I was left shell-shocked.
For anyone that doesn’t know, the movie is an adaptation of the play Journey’s End by R.C. Sheriff. Anyone who has ever studied English Literature at A-Level will most likely have come across the play in their War literature module. The story occurs over 4 days in the last days of the First World War.
Set entirely in a trench before an imminent attack, the play focuses on Captain Stanhope. This role is played by Sam Claflin with an impressive intensity that could have been toned down with subtlety in the beginning. Stanhope is an alcohol-dependent Captain. He is very aware that he and his men have been sent into the trench to be slaughtered at the end of a year-long standoff with the German’s.
With the end nigh, you can feel the tension of the film so strongly that you could cut it with a blunt butter knife.
A young lieutenant, played by fresh-faced Asa Butterfield, arrives on the Western Front for the first time. He immediately joins Stanhope’s regiment; forcing his way into the company due to a personal connection to Stanhope.
The look on Stanhope’s face when he sees Raleigh is heartbreaking.
He is not only terrified by the knowledge that Raleigh will undoubtedly be killed. But destroyed by his own shame towards his alcoholism and the fear that Raleigh will write to tell others of his personal weakness. The reality of this drives the plot from beginning to end.
The performances in the film really drive it, seeing as the setting is almost entirely set in a crumbling trench. I was very impressed with the set of Journey’s End. The trench is possibly the most realistic trench I have ever seen in a WWI movie. It’s not a comfortable, well-built walkway but an actual trench falling apart. With rotting wood keeping the mud and dead bodies, which hold up the walls, from falling. The floor is a foot of squelching mud, rats run amok. And men have to crouch, lean, or crawl across the floor to get around without getting shot by snipers.
You feel the claustrophobia and it adds to the real horror of the war which has been in danger of becoming glamourized in recent Hollywood movies.
The screenplay felt stilted in places. But I often find this is the case when plays have been adapted for the screen. There is a different tone in plays to screenplays and the writing tends to be very on the nose in the former. But the actors make the best of it. The most tender moment is the horrific scene when Raleigh and Osborne, played with such decency by Paul Bettany, sit and chat. With precisely three minutes before they’re due to go over the top on a suicidal reconnaissance mission.
Osborne keeps interrupting Raleigh’s nervous babble to discuss anything but their upcoming mission. Their tea, his garden, school, anything but what’s coming.
Watching a man literally count down the minutes until he has to die is making me tear up now. In the cinema it was hard to remain sitting without shouting out: don’t go! To make it worse, this is something that happened often in the actual war. Saul Dibb can’t help but make a metaphorical mention of the Lions led by Donkeys cliche with the officers demanding that they do the mission in daylight with little cover. All because the officers want to discuss the outcome at dinner at 8 pm.
The frustrations add to the horror. You often forget that you’re only watching a war movie and aren’t actually sitting in the trenches with the men.
This film felt personal to me. I had two ancestors die in the First World War in 1917 with one of them being very similar to Raleigh, having only just arrived at the front.
To break up the horror of the story there were touches of humour. The wonderful Toby Jones plays the officer’s cook, listening in to the officer’s conversations and serving up a storm of food. Also, Stephen Graham as Trotter who stole the show whenever he was on the screen. He plays a caring and tolerant officer who eats in nearly every scene. Yet never lets anything get in the way of supporting his men. Including Stanhope who is quite horrible to him.
Final thoughts on Journey’s End
I imagine this movie will become compulsory viewing in English literature and History classes in the years to come. But it can’t be relegated as a teaching movie only. It needs to be seen, it is so important. Lest we forget, after all.
It is a war film, but if you’re looking for explosions, gunfights, and standoffs you’ll only catch glimpses. This is very much a movie about the men of the First World War. And at a time when we’re commemorating the centenary of the war, this is possibly the most important movie you’ll see next year.
It’ll be released nationwide in January 2018. The trailer is out now.