Set during WWI in a trench in Northern France, Journey’s End follows a group of British officers led by Captain Stanhope (Sam Claflin) while they await their fate to be handed down by a group of bureaucratic army generals. Originally a stage play written by R.C. Sheriff in 1928, this is the fifth cinematic adaptation Journey’s End to make it to the big screen. Director Saul Dibb was tasked with breathing new life into this classic tale and introducing it to a modern audience.
The majority of the scenes play out in the cold, dark, and claustrophobic officers quarters where the group of diverse personalities live in constant fear of an imminent attack. The close quarters setting leads to some intense interactions between the officers and it’s easy to see why the stage play has become a classic. The writing is superb, featuring some great dialog and well-crafted character development. Dibb’s film does a great job of conveying how tough things were for soldiers of the era, and how the use of routine tasks created structure and a sense of purpose at a time when things could feel hopeless and meaningless. It’s clear that the entire company’s lives are in the hands of higher-ups and that they are merely expendable pawns in the greater scheme of things.
The officer roles are played masterfully, led by the heavy-drinking Stanhope and second-in-command, Osborne (Paul Bettany). Osborne along with Trotter (Stephen Graham) take it upon themselves to show the baby-faced officer Raleigh (Asa Butterfield) the ropes. Young Raleigh is a new recruit eager for some action and calls in a favor with his uncle in order to be placed with his schoolmate Stanhope’s unit on the frontline. He quickly discovers that Stanhope has fallen into alcoholism in order to deal with the pressure of being responsible for hundreds of men’s lives on a daily basis. Stanhope is essentially a puppet for the bureaucratic leaders of the army and at times is forced to send off his officers and troops to what is most likely their death.