WASHINGTON — Saul Dibb’s “Journey’s End” is being released 100 years to the week after its subject takes place: The trenches of France during World War I, as a group of British soldiers awaits an almost certain German offensive that will likely mean casualties.
The movie, which is based on R.C. Sherriff’s famous play of the same name, features relatively few combat scenes. Rather, it is focused on the psychological impact of waiting for almost certain death. Sam Claflin stars as one of the officers, the shell-shocked Captain Stanhope. Asa Butterfield plays the still-innocent and eager Second Lt. Raleigh, who is startled by Stanhope’s condition, having known him before the war.
“It was a huge waste and an unavoidable war,” Dibb tells Variety‘s “PopPolitics” on SiriusXM. “I think all reminders of war that look at the impact on men, and now women, involved are useful to see what the cost of conflict is.”
He said that the film captures what is still true for soldiers in combat: “95% of their time is spent waiting, and when the action comes, it is very short and very traumatic.”
Sherriff originally wanted to call his work “Waiting.”
“What we do in the film is say, ‘There is this enormous attack coming. All these men know they are coming. The chain of command has said, ‘Go to the front,’ and they are not allowed to leave.”
He added, “They are in this unbearably tense situation, hoping that their six days at the front will go without the attack coming, and of course it doesn’t.”
He said that the play, which debuted in 1928, was “way ahead of its time in looking at the psychological impact of war,” including what is now known as post-traumatic stress disorder. But he also said that it had a big impact in the late 1920s because it challenged “this noble idea of dying for your country.”
“PopPolitics,” hosted by Variety‘s Ted Johnson, airs from 2-3 p.m. ET/11-noon PT on SiriusXM’s political channel POTUS. It also is available on demand.