- James Mottram
- 29 January 2018
The hell of trench warfare is recreated in a superbly performed adaptation of RC Sherriff's play, starring Sam Claflin
Regarded as one of the definitive plays about the hell of trench warfare, RC Sherriff's World War I-set Journey's End has inspired numerous theatrical productions. Cinematically it's proved less of a draw, with the major English-language version filmed by Frankenstein director James Whale just a couple of years after its 1928 stage debut. That it takes place almost entirely in a dugout is likely to be why filmmakers have shied away from adapting it in the past.
Director Saul Dibb (The Duchess) embraces the confines, injecting real energy into Sherriff's words and expanding the visual landscape where appropriate. Set in Aisne during the 1918 Spring Offensive, the war is at an anxiety-inducing stalemate. Leading a battle-worn group of British soldiers is Captain Stanhope (Sam Claflin), increasingly whisky-fuelled and nearing a nervous breakdown.
With the upstanding Lieutenant Osborne (Paul Bettany) also present, the other men include the ever-hungry Trotter (Stephen Graham), the more considered cook Mason (Toby Jones) and newcomer Raleigh (Asa Butterfield), who comes from the same school as Stanhope, much to the latter's chagrin. Expected is a German offensive, which adds to the tension, but there's still time for moments of kindness and a sense of stiff upper-lip resolve in the face of horrifically adverse conditions.
Working from a screenplay by Simon Reade, Dibb uses his camera with great dexterity, trailing characters as they traverse the muddy trenches. When the film's more explosive moments come, Dibb has earned them, partly through the emotional credit accumulated by a uniformly excellent cast. It's almost unfair to pick a standout performer, although Claflin's turn as Stanhope is unforgettable; his nerves frazzled to nothing, he's a man who can't bear the weight of this tremendous responsibility any longer. Capturing his agony, Claflin, like this film, is mightily impressive.
General release from Fri 2 Feb.