A harrowing Journey into trench warfare
Only the camaraderie of his fellow castmates kept Toby Jones from being overwhelmed on the set of Journey’s End.
The 52-year-old British actor plays C Company chef Mason in the World War I drama, adapted from former army officer Robert Cedric Sherriff’s much-admired 1928 play of the same name.
Set in the French trenches during the final spring of the war, it details the growing tension among the men as they wait for a seemingly inevitable German offensive.
In order to replicate the experience for the actors and the audience, director Saul Dibb (The Duchess) and his team created a purpose built set in a studio in Wales and took advantage of one English farmer’s unique fixture.
‘‘There’s a guy in Ipswich, East Anglia, who has a permanent set of trenches in his fields,’’ Jones says on the phone from the United Kingdom. ‘‘I think that’s a very wise move, given how often dramas take place in trenches or need a trench. It’s not an extensive network, but certainly enough to film a film like this.
‘‘For the internals, we had this amazing warren of a set. It was just fantastic, when you are playing a thing like this, to be able to disappear into a sort of cave-like world. It really helps the imagination because it’s not three-sided, it’s literally foursided – you are completely surrounded.’’
As a late arrival to the shoot, Jones missed out on a WWI ‘‘boot camp’’ with historian Sir Anthony Seldon, however, he believes that whenever you are doing a war film of any kind there is a ‘‘certain amount of drill to be learned. Even in Dad’s Army [Jones played Captain Mainwaring in the 2016 bigscreen version of the beloved British sitcom] that was the case, because the drama [or comedy] lies in the breaking down of order.’’
But while struck by the setting and the play’s sense of claustrophobia and agoraphobia, Jones says there was such a sense of team spirit among the acting ensemble (that also included Paul Bettany, Asa Butterfield and Sam Claflin) that he was able to avoid taking home any emotional baggage from the role.
‘‘There was a sense of protecting each other. Where you have more trouble retrieving your day-to-day life is when you’re the only character in a lead role. When you’re being submerged in a fictional reality for weeks and weeks, it usually takes a couple of days to recover. Here, the structure was such
Toby Jones immersed himself in the role as C Company chef Mason.