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Journey's End: Sound and fury of soldier's tale

 

By Damon Smith

Released to mark 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 RC Sherriff's moving 1928 stage play without sacrificing too much of the psychological intensity.

Screenwriter Simon Reade ventures beyond the claustrophobic confines of an officer's dugout in the days leading up to the Spring Offensive, the setting for Sherriff's anthem to doomed youth.

The loss of young lives is brought home in a disorienting barrage of sound and fury: rat-a-tat gunfire, exploding shells and blood-curdling screams heralding a push by the Germans that is supposed to break the Allies' resolve.

The emotional fulcrum remains an inexperienced officer, Raleigh, played with haunting tenderness by 20-year-old Asa Butterfield.

Raleigh gets a transfer to the company commanded by old school friend Captain Stanhope (Sam Claflin). But Stanhope is a changed man and Raleigh is shocked by the fractious exchanges with his fellow second lieutenants.

Journey's End is an assured and largely understated depiction of the resolve and gallantry of British soldiers, who bid farewell to each other with a hearty "cheerio". That word is tinged with melancholy in Reade's script, which provides a superb ensemble cast of homegrown talent with meaty roles.

Claflin's spiralling paranoia contrasts with the authoritative calm of Paul Bettany's Lieutenant Osborne, who steadies nerves with a comforting smile.

DS

Belfast Telegraph

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