At times of great social upheaval, the arts help society understand events, deal with complex emotions and recover from collective trauma. As we enter the final year of commemorations marking 100 years since the end of the First World, the conflict continues to have a significant presence on the UK stage. Recent years have seen revivals of productions such as Birdsong and War Horse and new works including Balletboyz’s Young Men. Journey’s End is one of the most commonly revived plays of the First World War and will grace the silver screen in 2017.
Touring production of Journeys End
Written by R C Sherriff in 1927, Journey’s End draws on the playwright’s experience of combat in the First World War. Set in an officers’ dugout over a period of four days in 1918, it is a story of comradeship, fear and heroism.
At first, Sherriff struggled to secure a West End performance of the play with many potential producers concerned that audiences would not want to watch a production about war, not least one without a leading lady or any female characters. After much consideration, The Incorporated Stage Society, a private members society that mounted performances of new and experimental work, agreed to include two semi-staged performances of the play in its Winter programme.
Inside pages of the programme from the Incorporated Stage Society production of Journeys End, December 1928.
Opening at the Apollo Theatre on 9th December 1928 and starring a 21-year-old Laurence Olivier as Captain Stanhope, the play proved to be a critical success. Reviews commended Sherriff’s unromanticised portrayal of the realities of war and its emotional power noting that the play was worthy of a longer public run.
In January 1929 the play transferred to the Savoy Theatre under producer Maurice Browne. Sherriff was keen to use the original cast from the Stage Society performances but Olivier was already committed to star in a production of Beau Geste and so Colin Clive took over the role. The play was warmly received by audiences with Winston Churchill pronouncing it “brilliant”. Standing ovations met the cast on opening night and demand for tickets resulted in the addition of three matinee performances a week. The BBC broadcast a wireless version on Armistice night 1929 and at a special performance for 320 Victoria Cross holders, Sherriff was applauded for a number of minutes.
Front cover of The Play Pictorial focusing on the production of Journeys End at the Savoy Theatre, London, 1929. Front cover depicts Colin Clive as Stanhope and Maurice Evans as Raleigh, not Melville Cooper as the note on the cover suggests.
Journey’s End is without doubt one of the greatest plays exploring the First World War with a poignant anti-war message. However, its anti-war message is complex. Histories of the war written in the 1960s present the British commanders as foolish men, far from the front line who needlessly sacrificed the lives of brave men in military blunders, and this idea pervades in the anti-war sentiments presented in Theatre Workshop’s Oh! What a Lovely War! and television’s Blackadder Goes Forth. Ultimately, it was Sherriff’s intention to produce a play which paid tribute to his brothers-in-arms and the virtues of duty, perseverance and comradeship which he experienced on the Western Front.
Whilst the war in Journey’s End reveals the tragedy of conflict for both sides, the play’s narrative reminds audiences that the deaths were not without purpose. For audiences in 1929, the Great War was not only in living memory, but its legacy was still visible with many families mourning the loss of loved ones and dealing with both the mental and physical wounds of conflict. For inter-war audiences, Journey’s End offered an act of remembrance where those left behind could commemorate the sacrifice of husbands, fathers, sons and comrades and look forward to a future of peace. As the Manchester Guardian printed in its 1928 review “Journey’s End should become an official play of all the peace societies in England. It is worth many million pamphlets.”
Journeys End, Cambridge Theatre, 20 July 1972 with Colin Prockter as Trotter, Bruce Robinson as Hibbert and Peter Egan as Stanhope
The powerful anti-war message of Journey’s End still resonates with modern audiences in a time when conflict shows no sign of abating. David Brindley’s 2004 production at the Comedy Theatre, London juxtaposed the play’s strain of dark humour with heart-breaking tragedy. 75 years after the play opened at the Savoy Theatre, reviews of Brindley’s production note the lasting power of the piece, the impact of the intimate setting and the crafting of complicated, recognisable characters. Rather than concluding with a traditional curtain call, the production ended with the cast standing silently before a memorial inscribed with the names of the fallen, encouraging the audience to not only congratulate the cast, but to remember the sacrifice of the brave, ordinary heroes of the First World War.
Front cover of programme for 2004 production of Journeys End at Comedy Theatre, London
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Journey's End is a British film adaptation of the play Journey's End by R. C. Sherriff. Written by Simon Reade and directed by Saul Dibb, this is the fifth film adaptation of the play, following Journey's End (1930), The Other Side (1931), Aces High (1976) and a 1988 BBC TV film. The film was screened in the Special Presentations section at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival.
* = new character, does not appear in the stage play
It was first announced in 2014, as part of the British commemoration of the First World War centenary, produced by Guy De Beaujeu and originally planned to be directed by David Grindley, who had previously directed a frequently revived stage production of the play.
This had been delayed by uncertainties over who held the film rights to the play in United Kingdom and Ireland, these had been thought to be with Warner Brothers, but following pressure from Prince Andrew, it was found that they had lapsed in 2008.
They were due to be signed over to Fluidity Films on 2 June 2014. The film's producer confirmed that their ideal casting would include Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hiddleston and Eddie Redmayne, but that no actors had yet been approached. Further press information in December 2016 announced that the cast included Paul Bettany, Tom Sturridge and Toby Jones, and that it was due for release in 2017.
The film received a wider theatrical release in Spring 2018, 100 years after the events of the Spring Offensive which it depicts.
Review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 97% based on 40 reviews, with an average rating of 7.5/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Journey's End brings R.C. Sherriff's 90-year-old play to the screen with thrilling power, thanks to director Saul Dibb's hard-hitting urgency and brilliant work from a talented cast."Metacritic gave the film a score of 70 out of 100 based on 13 reviews, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
Simran Hans of The Observer gave the film 3 stars out of 5, saying, "Sam Claflin is particularly good as the boozy, brooding Captain Stanhope, whose intensity, belligerence and self-loathing flesh out what might in less capable hands have been a cliched, shell-shocked soldier." Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian gave the film 4 stars out of 5, calling it "expertly cast and really well acted: forthright, powerful, heartfelt." Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter commented that "the film serves to illuminate how very different the British army – or any army – was then, with its class distinctions and comparatively polite conversational modes, and how differently wars are now fought." Dennis Harvey of Variety said, "The convincing physical production is shot in muddy earthtones by Laurie Rose and is well accentuated by an original score of urgent, mournful strings."
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- ^Ben Child. "Cumberbatch and Hiddleston rumoured for Journey's End film | Film". The Guardian. Retrieved 2016-11-16.
- ^Nicholas Hellen (2014-06-01). "Sherlock set for a toff life in trenches". The Sunday Times. Retrieved 2016-11-16.
- ^Jess Denham (2014-06-02). "Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Hiddleston tipped to play officers in Journey's End movie". The Independent. Retrieved 2016-11-16.
- ^Dalya Alberge (2016-12-08). "'It's set in the trenches but it's not a war film'". The Observer. Retrieved 2017-01-01.
- ^Busch, Anita (November 13, 2017). "Journey's End' Acquired By Good Deed Entertainment, Will Debut In U.S. In 2018". Deadline Hollywood. Penske Business Media. Retrieved March 13, 2018.
- ^"Journey's End (2018)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved 13 March 2018.
- ^"Journey's End Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved 13 March 2018.
- ^Hans, Simran (4 February 2018). "Journey's End review – handsome first world war drama". The Observer. Retrieved 7 February 2018.
- ^Bradshaw, Peter (1 February 2018). "Journey's End review – horror, humour and humanity in the trenches". The Guardian. Retrieved 7 February 2018.
- ^McCarthy, Todd (18 September 2017). "'Journey's End': Film Review | TIFF 2017". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 7 February 2018.
- ^Harvey, Dennis (19 September 2017). "Toronto Film Review: 'Journey's End'". Variety. Retrieved 7 February 2018.