Burnt-out case

BBC History Magazine - - Tv & Radio -

Jour­ney’s End DVD (Lion­s­gate Home En­ter­tain­ment, £9.99) It’s 1918 and a young lieu­tenant, Raleigh (Asa But­ter­field), ar­rives on the west­ern front. In con­trast to many would-be com­bat­ants dur­ing the Viet­nam War half a cen­tury later, he has used his con­nec­tions not to avoid con­flict but to en­sure he is in the thick of the ac­tion. Raleigh wants to serve with a fam­ily friend, Cap­tain Stan­hope (Sam Claflin).

But, as this fine adap­ta­tion of RC Sher­riff’s 1928 stage play makes painfully clear, Raleigh’s ad­mi­ra­tion of Stan­hope is mis­placed be­cause the of­fi­cer’s ex­pe­ri­ences of war­fare have left him hol­lowed, an ag­gres­sive al­co­holic. This meet­ing of in­no­cence and trau­ma­tised cyn­i­cism is, of course, in­tended to be sym­bolic, yet it also works bril­liantly as drama be­cause life in the trenches is so claus­tro­pho­bic. This makes a film adap­ta­tion risky be­cause there’s the dan­ger of open­ing out the text, of in­tro­duc­ing too much dis­tract­ing spec­ta­cle to a piece that is, at root, about the fu­til­ity of con­flict. That this never hap­pens is to the credit of writer Si­mon Reade and di­rec­tor Saul Dibb. The cast, which also in­cludes Paul Bet­tany and Stephen Gra­ham, ex­cels – so when tragedy strikes, it is as gut-wrench­ing for all as it is in­evitable.

Asa But­ter­field turns in a ma­ture per­for­mance as the wide-eyed rookie Raleigh

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