Complete A-Z list


Journey's End

7/10

Stars: Sam Claflin, Asa Butterfield, Paul Bettany, Toby Jones, Tom Sturridge, Stephen Graham

Director: Saul Dibb

The full horror and futility of war was never better rammed home than by R C Sherriff's famous play, of which this is a workmanlike-plus new version, bolstered by excellent performances throughout, if perhaps lacking some of the claustrophobic intensity of James Whale's famous 1930 original.

It's showing almost 100 years to the day after the the setting of the film - mid-March 1918 in the mud-caked trenches of Aisne. Fresh teenage 2nd Lt Raleigh (Butterfield) arrives at the front just in time to join C Company, where his idol from school, Stanhope (Claflin) is now in command, and being shunted with his men into a forward trench position just in time for the expected Spring Offensive from the German enemy. 'We didn't bury the bodies,' says the outgoing sergeant-major. ''We used them to shore up the trench walls - poor buggers.'

Raleigh finds Stanhope much changed, a man living on the ends of frayed nerves and bottles of whisky, both of which are about to run out. More in control of things is the kindly, seemingly laidback second in command Osborne (Bettany), a former schoolteacher and rugger star. The only other officers are Hibbert (Graham), who's in a worse state than Stanhope, and the phlegmatic Trotter (Graham).

Attempting to soothe their jagged nerves is the camp cook, Mason (a dishevelled Jones). 'What sort of soup is this?' barks Stanhope, surveying the latest muck on offer. 'It's yellow soup sir,' the cook replies.

Comes an oder to make a raid on enemy positions, which gets moved from nighttime to deadly daylight. The two officers and 10 men selected to take part are given rum to drink before they dash to almost certain death. The film ends with that final offensive, although waiting for it to come is perhaps a little too protracted, having the opposite effect of that intended.

Claflin gives his best screen performance to date as the haunted Stanhope, but Bettany is quite superb as Osborne and steals the film.

David Quinlan

UK 2017. UK Distributor: LionsGate. Colour (unspecified).
103 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 1, Drugs 0, Swearing 1.

Review date: 29 Jan 2018