You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Toronto Film Review: ‘Journey’s End’

Saul Dibb directs an impressive new version of the much-filmed 1928 stage classic, about British troops near the end of WWI.

Saul Dibb
Sam Claflin, Paul Bettany, Asa Butterfield, Toby Jones, Tom Sturridge, Stephen Graham, Robert Glenister, Miles Jupp, Rupert Wickham.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3780500/

Few stage staples from 90 years ago would easily translate to the screen today, yet R.C. Sherriff’s once near-ubiquitous “Journey’s End” proves potent as ever in this sturdy new adaptation from director Saul Dibb and writer-producer Simon Reade. While there’s little staginess about the endeavor, the preserved tight focus on a handful of British soldiers “waiting to be killed” in a trench near WWI’s finish provides all the character and emotional involvement that was lacking in the more action-oriented recent “Dunkirk.” The latter’s success — plus next year’s centennial of the Great War’s close — could further boost a strong drama likely to benefit from solid reviews.

A captain wounded at Passchendaele himself, Sherriff drew on three years’ service experience to write his greatest triumph (which he subsequently turned into a novel, also a source here). Premiering in 1928 with 21-year-old Laurence Olivier in a breakthrough role — one he foolishly declined to repeat in the West End transfer — it was a smash on both sides of the Atlantic. Its director, James Whale, also helmed the first, most famous film version, released in 1930, a year before he made “Frankenstein.” Several lesser film and TV versions followed, along with numerous stage revivals.

Dibbs’ movie is more realistic in gritty presentation than earlier incarnations, but otherwise no attempt has been made to “modernize” the material with harsher language, gore, etc. Indeed, it’s one small consolation in this sad story that the characters are so polite, though there’s nothing artificially old-fashioned about their manner as performed and directed.

The British Army C Company stationed in Northern France in early 1918 has already fought four years in a war they were originally promised would be “over by Christmas.” Thus it feels incongruous for them to receive a spanking new recruit fresh out of basic training, let alone one so naïve as Raleigh (Asa Butterfield), who’s so baby-faced he recalls famously infantile silent comedian Harry Langdon. Actually, Raleigh has been placed here by request: There’s nothing he’d like more than to be reunited with his former school head-boy and prospective brother-in-law Captain Stanhope (Sam Claflin), widely regarded as “the best commander of the lot.”

But Stanhope is not happy to see this wide-eyed reminder of his past, before enduring years of horror and loss. Indeed, he’s ashamed of what he’s become under cumulative stress — an alcoholic, belligerent shadow of his former self — and worries that young Raleigh will carry news of this decline back to his betrothed. Still, he continues to hold it together for the sake of his men, and he’s in turn held together largely by the patient ministrations of Lt. Osborne (Paul Bettany), a schoolteacher who’s Mr. Chips-like in his calming, compassionate influence over the company. (Sherriff would be Oscar-nominated for his screenplay contribution to the beloved original screen “Goodbye, Mr. Chips” in 1939.)

Other prominent figures in the officers’ dugout include long-suffering cook Mason (Toby Jones), unflappable Trotter (Stephen Graham) and Hibbert (Tom Sturridge), whose nerves are completely shot. But they’re all on edge, particularly once news arrives that a long-expected frontal assault by German troops is finally due to arrive in a couple days. Only the officers know Company C is to be sacrificed to “slow down” the enemy — with no reinforcements allocated to protect them. Even before that slaughter arrives, the powers-that-be order a raid in broad daylight, risking heavy casualties to hopefully bring back one talkative “Jerry” prisoner.

It takes about 75 minutes before this first burst of chaotic action occurs. But “Journey’s End” never feels over-talkative, dull or even particularly claustrophobic. Much of the credit goes to the astute writing and punchy yet understated staging. But primarily, the film keeps audiences engrossed in the personalities involved, their fatigue, disillusionment and residual humanity, as well as the tenderness they extend towards one another where needed. (There’s plenty of team-spirit resilience, but no machismo whatsoever on display here.)

The entire cast is fine, with Claflin (“The Hunger Games,” “My Cousin Rachel”) excellent in the role Olivier originated. Particularly good is Bettany, who makes Osborne the kind of natural caregiver who ensures his tending is barely perceptible — one of the best scenes here shows him deftly preparing terrified neophyte Raleigh for the raid, simply by distracting him with small talk.

Written at a time when many hoped and believed there would — indeed must — never be another global conflagration like the one portrayed, “Journey’s End” retains its poignancy in illustrating how no war casualty is a mere statistic. The convincing physical production is shot in muddy earthtones by Laurie Rose and is well accentuated by an original score of urgent, mournful strings.

Popular on Variety

Toronto Film Review: 'Journey's End'

Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Special Presentation), Sept. 15, 2017. Running time: 107 MIN.

Production: (U.K.) A BFI, Wales Screen presentation, in association with Metro International Entertainment, British Film Co., Umedia, of a Fluidity Films production, in association with Third Wednesday Films. (International sales: Metro International, London.) Producers: Guy De Beaujeu, Simon Reade. Executive producers: Anthony Seldon, Will Machin, Natalie Brenner, Sam Parker, Mary Burke, Charles Auty, Steve Milne, Christian Eisenbeiss, Ivan Dunleavy, Robert Norris, David Grindley, Sue De Beauvoir, Bastien Sirodot, Adrian Politowski, Gilles Waterkeyn.

Crew: Directed by Saul Dibb. Screenplay: Simon Reade, based on the play by R.C. Sherriff and the novel by Sherriff, Vernon Bartlett. Camera (color, widescreen, HD): Laurie Rose. Editor: Tania Reddin. Music: Hildur Gudnadottir, Natalie Holt.

With: Sam Claflin, Paul Bettany, Asa Butterfield, Toby Jones, Tom Sturridge, Stephen Graham, Robert Glenister, Miles Jupp, Rupert Wickham.

More Film

  • Backstage in Puglia del film SPACCAPIETRE:

    'Gomorrah' Star Salvatore Esposito Set For De Serio Twins' 'The Stonebreaker'

    Salvatore Esposito, the Italian star who plays young mob boss Genny Savastano in Italy’s hit TV series “Gomorrah,” will soon be hitting the big screen toplining upcoming drama “The Stonebreaker” by twin directorial duo Gianluca and Massimiliano De Serio, who are known internationally for “Seven Acts of Mercy.” The De Serio twins are now in post on “Stonebreaker” [...]

  • Angelina Jolie is Maleficent in Disney’s

    Box Office: 'Maleficent: Mistress of Evil' Tops 'Joker,' 'Zombieland'

    “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” is on track to give Disney another first place finish after scoring $12.5 million in Friday’s domestic ticket sales. If estimates hold, the Angelina Jolie-led film should finish the weekend with about $38 million — well below earlier forecasts but enough to top holdover “Joker” and fellow newcomer “Zombieland: Double Tap.” [...]

  • Maelle Arnaud

    Lumière Chief Programmer Maelle Arnaud: 'Film History Doesn't Have Parity'

    LYON, France   — As the Lumière Institute’s head programmer since 2001, Maelle Arnaud helped launched the Lumière Festival in 2009 and has watched it grow in international esteem over the decade that followed. This year, the festival ran 190 films across 424 screenings in theaters all over town. The festival will come to a [...]

  • Girl with Green Eyes

    Talking Pictures TV: Bringing the Past Back to Life in the U.K.

    LYON, France – Since its launch in 2015, Talking Pictures TV has become the fastest-growing independent channel in the U.K. with a growing library of British film and TV titles that span five decades, according to founder Noel Cronin. Noel Cronin attended the Lumière Festival’s International Classic Film Market (MIFC) in Lyon, France, where he [...]

  • Wings of Desire

    German Heritage Sector Applauds Increased Digitization, Preservation Funding

    LYON, France  — Germany’s film heritage sector is celebrating a new federal and state-funded initiative launching in January that will provide €10 million ($11.15 million) a year towards the digitization and preservation of feature films. Rainer Rother, the artistic director of the Deutsche Kinemathek, outlined the plan at a panel discussion at the Lumière Festival’s [...]

  • 'QT8: Quentin Tarantino, The First Eight'

    Film Review: 'QT8: Quentin Tarantino, The First Eight'

    In one of the intermittent revealing moments in “QT8: Quentin Tarantino, The First Eight,” a documentary about the films of Quentin Tarantino that’s like a familiar but tasty sundae for Quentin fans, we see Tarantino on the set of “Pulp Fiction,” shooting the iconic dance contest at Jack Rabbit Slim’s. As John Travolta and Uma [...]

  • Zombieland Double Tap

    Why Emma Stone Was Haunted by Fear of Vomiting While Shooting 'Zombieland: Double Tap'

    SPOILER ALERT: The following story contains a slight spoiler for “Zombieland: Double Tap.” The zombie slayers are back! Ten years after Emma Stone, Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg and Abigail Breslin first killed dead people walking in “Zombieland,” they’ve reunited for “Zombieland: Double Tap.” “You take stock of your life a little bit,” Stone says of [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content