War films tend to focus on the physical horror and brutality of war and the toll it takes on the men and women involved. But Journey's End – a ternse and terrific adaptation of Robert Sherriff's play – aims its gaze squarely on the psychological havoc that war can wreak on its participants, and demonstrates beyond any doubt that war is indeed hell.
Young Asa Butterfield leads a stellar British cast as Second Lieutenant Raleigh, joining the fight on the front line in France during the First World War. Naive and keen to prove his worth, he's shocked to learn that his commanding officer Captain Stanhope (Sam Claflin) – who he was at school with and looked up to, and who is engaged to Raleigh's sister – has become a bitter, disillusioned alcoholic.
Set in 1918, twards the end of the war, most of the film takes place in the trenches as the troops prepare for a suicidal attack on the Germans just on the other side of No Man's Land. The ensemble cast are all wonderful, with Butterfield and Claflin joined by Paul Bettany as Lieutenant Osborne, who takes Raleigh under his wing, Toby JOnes as officers' cook Mason, Stephen Graham and Tom Sturridge.
Director Saul Dibb does a fine job of taking the play out of its theatrical settings and into the grim, muddy trenches and dugouts of WWI France (although the film was shot in Wales). As all good war films should, Journey's End in no way glorifies war and for much of its running time is cramped and claustrophobic; we all know the horror that is coming, and that most of the men we are spending time with will soon be dead. It's an affecting and emotional drama that showcases some of Britain's best talents.