Journey’s End
dir Saul Dibb
scr Simon Reade
prd Guy de Beaujeu, Simon Reade
with Sam Claflin, Asa Butterfield, Paul Bettany, Toby Jones, Tom Sturridge, Stephen Graham, Robert Glenister, Miles Jupp, Rupert Wickham, Theo Barklem-Biggs, Jake Curran, Andy Gathergood
release UK 2.Feb.18
17/UK Lionsgate 1h47
Journey's End
In the trenches: Claflin

butterfield bettany jones
london film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Journey's End Opening with a sober, quiet series of scenes, this WWI drama builds a steadily unnerving atmosphere as soldiers brace themselves for a rumoured attack. Director Saul Dibb gives the film a remarkable sense of authenticity, with introspective performances from a gifted cast. The film sharply depicts the details of these men as they cope with their situation.

In the dog days of the Great War in 1918, British soldiers are terrified of an impending German offensive. A new arrival, young officer Raleigh (Butterfield) requests to join the battalion of his friend Stanhope (Claflin), just as they are headed into the trenches on the front line. Stanhope is shellshocked but supported by fellow officers Osborne and Trotter (Bettany and Graham), and Raleigh is only beginning to understand the situation he is in. But then, most of these men are at the breaking point. And now Stanhope needs Raleigh to lead a raid.

The older actors being a superbly haunted quality to these battle-weary men, adding a striking contrast to Butterfield's fresh-faced newcomer. It's a darkly internalised approach to the setting, unusual in its complex textures and the grinding intensity as these men wait for an attack that will likely result in their deaths. In this sense, the film resembles a play, focussing on a group of men in a contained space grappling their mortality with a stiff upper lip.

Each of these layered men comes to life in a remarkable way. Claflin anchors the cast as the deeply disturbed captain barely clinging to his own sanity. As his righthand man, Bettany offers a character who copes with stress using humour and stark realism. Graham is also offhanded and straight-talking, while Sturridge is likeable as a frazzled young officer who just wants out. Jones provides wry commentary as the company cook. And Butterfield is terrific as the eager young man who is unaware of a truth everyone else knows: they are all going to die.

Since the intensity is mainly internal, the film sometimes feels like it's progressing very slowly indeed. but the actors are terrific at cutting through all of this British repression, letting us see their quavering thoughts as they face everything from worms and mud to whirring bullets and their terrifying thoughts. It's a remarkably humane depiction of young soldiers on the knife edge of battle. Yes, this is all pretty bleak stuff, and it's accompanied by an echoing, mournful score. But it's also powerfully moving.

cert 12 themes, language, violence 12.Jan.18

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