Released to commemorate the centenary of the end of the First World War, director Saul Dibb’s thoughtful tour of duty with British soldiers on the front line expands R C Sherriff’s moving 1928 stage play without sacrificing too much of the psychological intensity.
Anguished silences between soldiers, resigned to the grim inevitability of a final stand, cast a pall over stage versions and stoke dramatic tension. That relentless march of time is lost somewhat in Dibb’s elegiac screen adaptation, which marshals the technical might and artistry of the moving image to visualise devastation that can only be alluded to on the page by Sheriff. New characters have consequently been added to the play’s rank and file but the emotional fulcrum remains an inexperienced officer, Raleigh, played with haunting tenderness by 20-year-old Asa Butterfield. Raleigh (Butterfield) successfully petitions a high-ranking relative to transfer him to the company commanded by old school friend Captain Stanhope (Sam Claflin). Fizzling with youthful optimism and innocence, Raleigh arrives on March 18, 1918, oblivious to the impending German onslaught.
Journey’s End is an assured and largely understated depiction of the unwavering resolve and gallantry of British soldiers, who bid farewell to each other with a hearty “cheerio”.