Saul Dibb’s adaptation of the acclaimed play sees the source material through a modern lens and makes use of the intimacy unique to the cinematic form.
World War I trench warfare has proved a great crucible for storytelling on stage — or for stories that might as well have been written for the stage. Soldiers confined to a small space, in a lengthy war of casualties, find themselves in a kind of purgatory waiting to die, staying sane by keeping up appearances. R.C. Sheriff’s 1928 play, Journey’s End, was one of the first to dramatize this part of the Great War, but many more have followed — among them The Wipers Times and, one might argue, the mostly single-set final series of Blackadder.
Sheriff’s play finds a group of British officers in a trench in 1918, just as a fatal German attack is expected. With a title like Journey’s End, the question is not whether any (or all) of the characters will die, but what do you do when you know you’re going to die? How do you carry on living and, literally, fighting? The show must go on, and the soldiers must keep up appearances with that Stiff Upper Lip. It’s an idea so inherently theatrical, the characters performing for each other as well as for the audience, that it seems a potentially poor fit for film.