Not your usual action-movie about World War I, Frances Winston found Journey’s End to be well-crafted, and well-acted
Directed by: Saul Dibb – Starring: Sam Claflin, Asa Butterfield, Paul Bettany, Tom Sturridge, Toby Jones, Robert Glenister
Play adaptations are notoriously difficult to pull off. One of the biggest problems is usually expanding the world of the play. That isn’t even an option here, however, as the setting for the play was the trenches in WWI, which were about as claustrophobic as it gets.
Set over four days in 1918, Journey’s End follows the soldiers in the trenches in the run up to Operation Michael – a German military offensive.
Although the characters are fictitious, the events depicted are real, and therefore require a certain amount of gravitas. The First World War isn’t called the Great War for nothing, and many young men died brutal and horrific deaths. This story shows men from all walks of life, and from all ranks of military, working together to fight for King and country, all while battling their own personal demons. The only thing they all have in common is a desire to be anywhere else but there.
As you can imagine, Journey’s End is an often uncomfortable watch, as the men are forced to confront the likelihood that they will die. Despite this, they try and keep their spirits up and carry on, even going through the ritual of serving dinner at a proper table at a particular time.
Thoughtfully directed by Dibb, Journey’s End is very much an ensemble piece, with no one actor overshadowing anyone else, no matter how big a name they are. Paul Bettany gives his best performance in years as the somewhat reluctant Lieutenant Osbourne. The same is true of Sam Clafin, whom I have often found quite insipid, but here, he imbues his character, Captain Stanhope, with a lot of layer and depth. In fact, Journey’s End is brilliantly cast, with each actor completely hitting the mark. Given that it is accurate of the era, I will even eschew cries of “male-centric”.
Since it’s based on a play, at times this is very ‘wordy’, with lots of exposition. This can become tedious on film, but somehow the tension of the setting and the confines of the trenches make it more palatable than usual. It helps that there is some brilliant sound-mixing going on. Although Dibb has expanded the world of the play ever so slightly, it is not enough to jar with those familiar with the source material, and instead proves an effective way of conveying just how close-knit and intense the trenches were.
You don’t need to know much about the conflict to appreciate this story. At its heart, Journey’s End is simply a human tale. And if you are expecting a full-on action-packed war-flick, this isn’t for you. Instead this is at times gentle, at times tense, and always engaging, if a little slow-moving in parts.
Very well crafted, Journey’s End is extremely thought-provoking, and will linger with you for some time afterwards.
In Cinemas February Now! See Trailer Below: