Advance Screening: Journey's End

Journey's End Review

Runtime: 108mins | Director: Saul Dibb | Rating: 5 Stars

This week I was incredibly lucky to be invited to see an advance screening of Journey’s End by The Uckfield Picture House – something I’m very grateful for. Not only was it a fantastic opportunity to be able to see the film before general release along with fellow cinephiles, but we were very fortunate to have the film introduced to us by Jack Holden, one of the actors in the film, who then gave a brilliant Q+A afterward.

For those who don’t know, Journey’s End is an adaptation of the famous play by R. C. Sherriff which originally starred Laurence Olivier in 1928. Since then, there have been multiple adaptations (both on stage and screen) with the most recent being Saul Dibbs’.

The film tells the story of a company of soldiers who are posted in Saint-Quentin and follow the real-life events of ‘Operation Michael’. Set almost entirely within the trenches, the film predominantly focusses on the relationship between Second Lieutenant Raleigh (Asa Butterfield) and his old school mentor, who he used to worship and admire, the now Captain of C-Company, Captain Denis Stanhope (Sam Claflin). When Raleigh arrives, however, he finds that the burden of war has changed Stanhope immensely and he is no longer the man he remembers.

Going into Journey’s End, I was uncertain of whether I’d like it or not as I must confess, I’m not a huge fan of war films. Dunkirk, for example, I appreciated the cinematography and soundtrack, but ultimately, I was underwhelmed by. Journey’s End, however, I loved. For me, it is one of the greatest World War films I have seen and is up there with the likes of Saving Private Ryan.

Despite the extensive adaptation and reputability of Journey’s End, I had no prior knowledge of the plot - quite a feat, I know. Personally, I believe this made my viewing experience all the better. That’s not to say that someone who already knows the plot won’t enjoy it (as the Q+A later revealed), but it certainly made it more suspenseful due to my ignorance.

One of the things I most loved about this film, which also made it hard to watch at points, was the extreme sense of claustrophobia. Due to the fact, 90% of the film is filmed from within the confines of the trench, this totally engrosses you and makes you feel as trapped as one of the soldiers themselves. This, as revealed by Jack during the Q+A, was emphasised on purpose by Laurie Rose who filmed most of the shots on a handheld camera which was able to get in close amongst the actors and exaggerate the sense of confinement. Due to the fact everything is filmed so intimately, everything feels all the more real – I felt disgusted when I saw worms writhing out the walls, I jumped when a bullet whizzed above their head and I panicked when an explosion went off next to them. It all feels too close for comfort.

Journey’s End also benefitted hugely from an incredibly gifted cast: Sam Claflin, Paul Bettany, Asa Butterfield and Toby Jones to name but a few! Whilst everyone in it was brilliant (no genuinely, I wouldn’t fault a single person), Paul Bettany and Sam Claflin stood out by a country mile.

Claflin, who I will (to my shame) admit I wasn’t familiar with before Journey’s End blew me away. Captain Stanhope is an incredibly complex character, and consequently, one who is equally as complex to play. Plagued by the pressures and loss caused by war and the impending attack by the Germans, Stanhope becomes an alcoholic who is irrational and highly volatile. Despite this, every morning when greeting the soldiers he is chipper and forces a smile on his face so that he remains a man his company can look up to and rely upon.

Bettany too (as per) was incredible. In contrast to Stanhope who lets himself be consumed by the pressures of war, Bettany takes it on the chin and acts as the crutch for him and his company, reflected by his nickname, ‘Uncle’. Throughout a film rife with chaos, tension and uncertainty, ‘Uncle’ reminds us that there is still humanity and decency left in the world. Unlike Raleigh, he doesn’t crave the excitement of war, and unlike Stanhope, he doesn’t let it consume him either – instead, he does his utmost to go through each day with a smile on his face and support those around him like the true, British gentleman he is.

The ultimate takeaway from this film for me though was its portrayal of male mental health. Soldiers are frequently associated with being macho and fearless, but Journey’s End refutes this stereotype at every turn (at least in the conventional way). One quote that stuck with me, in particular, is when Stanhope screams at Raleigh when he condemns his behaviour, “do you think there is no limit to what a man can bear?!” The answer is yes, there is, and Journey’s End illustrates this perfectly.

In summary, not only is Journey’s End a worthy adaptation, but it’s also a hard-hitting, yet truly brilliant film which benefits greatly from its hugely talented cast - both Claflin and Bettany have never been better. It would have been very easy for Saul Dibbs to modernise his adaptation and fill it with gore and expletives, but instead, he reigns it in and focusses on the injustice of the war and the consequences it came with for those fighting it. It isn’t an easy watch by any stretch, but it is one you won’t regret. Please do go and see it.

Before I sign off, it’s also worth mentioning that the release of Journey’s End’s couldn’t have been timed better due to it currently being the First World War Centenary. As a result, particularly in London, there will be hundreds of events related to the war put on and I highly recommend taking advantage of them! Whether Journey’s End was released with this in mind I can’t be certain of, but either way, it is a happy coincidence at the very least!

To watch the trailer - click here.

To book tickets at The Uckfield Picture House - click here


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