Here we have an engrossing movie set exactly one century ago, in March of the final year of the First World War.
Based on a popular 1928 play by R.C. Sheriff, an English veteran, most of the film is set in an English artillery trench 60 yards from a German trench in northern France.
The story is launched when an idealistic young 2nd lieutenant, Raleigh (Asa Butterfield), asks to be assigned to the company of Capt. Stanhope (Sam Claflin, excellent here) an older classmate whom Raleigh admired in school.
“You’ll find he’s changed,” Raleigh is warned. Indeed, Stanhope has grown frustrated and bitter, drinking to salve his conscience as he dutifully leads solders into situations they do not understand and he cannot justify.
As the unit begins a week of trench duty, the senior officers are told to expect a German advance within days and not to expect backup support when the advance arrives. If the news is dire, they understand they must “stick at it, the only thing a decent man can do.”
They are decent men, including their older leader, Osborne (Paul Bettany), a schoolmaster. In a letter to his wife, he writes, “These youngsters do not realize who they are, so new are they to their very existence.”
As events proceed, Raleigh’s idealism is tempered with empathy and Stanhope personifies the cumulative cost of the Great War on England’s soldiers and the country itself.
The theme here is not upbeat because it cannot be upbeat. World War I involved no particular cause, but seems to have been sparked because the warring countries had large militaries and and thin-skinned rulers who were ready to fight. Cynical commanders sent armies of loyal soldiers into lacerating battles that left thousands dead but resolved nothing.
Even before the war ended, it had spawned a literature of disillusion, mistrust and fury — messages that resonate to this day.
“Journey’s End” is a very good movie whose story is as relevant now as it was a century ago.
War historians generally agree that the American Civil War was the first modern war. The Industrial Revolution provided better armaments, telegraphic communication and rail lines for logistical support. The result was more, and more efficient, bloodshed.
Fifty years later, World War I was Europe’s first modern war. Countries used all the Civil War innovations, and added others: machine guns, hand grenades, barbed wire, poison gas, fighter planes and aerial reconnaissance photos for pinpoint bomb targeting. During the course of the war, gas masks, metal helmets and tanks were refined and added to combat arsenals.