Journey's End

Innocence Lost - Courage Found

Journey’s End, a 1928 play by the British writer R.C. Sherriff, has been part of the English repertory for generations (a young Laurence Olivier starred in the first London production). The story of a group of soldiers and officers tensely awaiting an upcoming offensive during a particularly bloody spate of trench warfare during World War I, this taut, emotionally wrenching snapshot of both the mythologies and grim realities of war possesses useful reminders about self-deception and abuse of power.

Poster for the WWI drama Journey's EndAs in many war narratives, the audience’s guide in this one is a young, wide-eyed recruit named Raleigh (Asa Butterfield), who has pulled strings so that he can join a company in France led by an old school chum named Stanhope (Sam Claflin). When Raleigh arrives, he is greeted by the muck and metastasizing hopelessness of the trench, where interminable boredom is punctuated only by cigarettes, cups of tea and moments of stark terror. Here, he finds his old friend ‘Stanno’ dealing with the pressure by drinking heavily and cruelly lashing out. Raleigh finds a far calmer mediating presence in Osborne, a gentle, impeccably mannered gentleman, magnificently portrayed by Paul Bettany, who personifies with quiet self-restraint the concept of courage as unwavering grace under pressure.

Time is perhaps the most important character in Journey’s End, which is structured around a six-day hitch in northern France, but hinges on a particularly thorny mission whose outcome is no less devastating for its being utterly predictable. Masterfully calibrated by Dibb and his thoroughly able ensemble, the emotional toll brought on by competing forces of dread, hope, decency and crushing fatalism becomes keenly palpable. Its poetic title notwithstanding, Journey’s End suggests that, flowery invocations of glory, brotherhood and bravery aside, every foxhole is its own kind of grave.

– Ann Hornaday, The Washington Post


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