Journey’s End is a harrowing account of life in the trenches, not a true story, but based on the experiences of playwright RC Sherriff. It was ground-breaking when first written in 1928, and it has since been performed on stage, taught throughout schools and enjoyed several revivals in film. It’s a well-worn tale, but one that’s important to retell so as not to be forgotten.
Set in the trenches of the Great War, shortly before a large German offensive, Journey’s End is the story of a young British officer named Raleigh (Asa Butterfield) who joins a brigade in northern France. The new recruit is excited to meet up with his old school friend, the now jaded and hardened Captain Stanhope (Sam Claflin). We see the trenches through the eyes of Raleigh – excited and gullible – and through the eyes of Stanhope, a man broken by the horrors of war and the captain of a brigade destined to die.
This is not war porn: the “action” is limited. It’s a film about claustrophobia; the dread of being told to run out into no man’s land; the rigid hierarchies in which decision-making is removed from those on the ground; the inequality of officers swilling champagne while the infantry huddle in the mud over rationed soup; and the sobering, levelling fact that they are all in the same boat: waiting in the trenches to die. A story about life in the trenches, written by a man who lived in the trenches.
The occasional moments of gunfire are well earned, it’s not exploitative or Tarantino-esque. Even though these men were being used as cannon fodder, the Journey’s End isn’t littered with exploding extras or gruesome moments of heads being shot off.
The cast are wonderful, and Paul Bettany has the stand-out role as Osbourne, an officer with a wife and children at home, who sees no true honour in dying for his country, but isn’t a deserter or coward either. Like the rest of them, Osbourne has no choices of his own to make, he’s a man resigned to waiting for his orders to go up and over. Bettany deserves some nominations for this performance.
If the film had been a little braver, it would have stayed down in the trenches for longer, letting the tension grow and grow as the men fall to pieces; but it is still a poignant and important reminder of a terrible time in human history.
Journey’s End is released nationwide on 2nd February 2018.
Watch the trailer for Journey’s End here: