Bori Bernát watches Saul Dibb’s star-studded war film.
Although the audience is always keen to see a new war movie, filmmakers nowadays struggle to bring a new angle to the so often seen trauma. Balance is crucial – it must contain a twist that spices up the traditional, yet not too severe to make the film distasteful. That is exactly what Saul Dibb’s Journey’s End offers: a classic war film set during World War I with the intention to honour those who gave their lives on the battlefield, and to shed light on the intimate relationship between soldiers rarely mentioned. As the fifth film adaptation of R. C. Sheriff’s play of the same name, it had even more to live up to.
Journey’s End is set in 1918 on the frontline in Aisne. Officer Raleigh (Asa Butterfield) is young, ambitious, and incredibly naïve. Upon joining the British army in France, he immediately requests to be transferred to a troop on the frontline to meet his childhood friend, Captain Stanhope (Sam Claflin). Outside of expectations, he found his friend completely changed, only a shadow lingering in place of a man. Raleigh must soon realise that war is nothing like he’s imagined, and faces the cruel reality that awaits him. Some of the officers he joins with are like Stanhope, lost in the hopelessness of war, while Lieutenant Osborne (Paul Bettany) handles the pressure fairly better, taking the place of Raleigh’s mentor in the process. While they wait for the inevitable in the dugout, men form stronger bonds than expected, and rely on each other in hopes of a better fate.
The film is about the loss of innocence. World War I is portrayed at its cruellest point, taking lives and hope alike, no ending in sight. The strain of fighting changes the best of men, including Stanhope, and slowly Raleigh as well. We watch day by day as they fade into ghosts of their former selves, corrupted by the stress, anxiety, alcohol and depression. However, Journey’s End is also about relationships. The shared experience of war between soldiers is beautifully portrayed. The nuances that surround each men unfold with grace, thanks to Dibb’s direction, which highlights the extraordinary intimacy between officers of war that is not often portrayed in film.
An interesting aspect of Journey’s End from a cinematographic point of view is the unusual yet refreshing use of lighting – or lack thereof. According to the director of photography, Laurie Rose, the dugout location was a very limited space to be filming in, and thus lighting was the first thing cut out of production. This resulted in an authentic dark ambiance that complimented the mood of the story well. They used natural lighting – the sun and candles – to a great artistic effect, not to mention also historically accurate.
Butterfield (The Space Between Us, Hugo) gives a brilliant performance as Raleigh, capturing the audience with his boyish charms, risking being put out of place considering the environment the story is set in. Nevertheless, he utilises this physical trait and turns it to his advantage quite well. Bettany (A Beautiful Mind, Avengers: Age of Ultron) is as great as ever. He portrays Osborne with wisdom and grace, making him an easily lovable character. However, the biggest surprise and transformation comes from Claflin (Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Me Before You). His portrayal of Stanhope and his struggle with the world, the war and his own discipline, is the perfectly captivating. Stepping away from the charmingly handsome characters he’s known and casted for, we experience a completely new side to Claflin and his craft.
It is important to mention that the battle takes place in 1918, exactly a hundred years from now, making it no coincidence that the film premieres in 2018. Paying tribute to lives lost, the end result is a beautiful honouring of a painful history.
Journey’s End comes out February 2 in the UK. Watch the trailer below: