As of this year, a century has passed since the end of World War I. Known as ‘the war to end all wars’ the horror of the trenches and the terrible loss of life encountered on the field’s of France have been remembered across the ages and continue to serve as an enduring lesson on the terrible futility of war.
Based on R.C. Sherriff’s classic play of the same name and featuring an all-star British cast, Journey’s End presents a frighteningly accurate recreation of life for a group of officers prior to the end of the conflict
Journey’s End is set in March 1918 as C-Company, led by a war-weary Captain Stanhope (Sam Claflin) arrives in northern France to take its turn in the front-line trenches. Told that a German offensive is imminent, Stanhope drowns his fears in whiskey whilst the officers (Paul Bettany, Stephen Graham, Tom Sturridge) and their cook (Toby Jones) attempt to distract themselves in their dugout with talk of food and life before the war.
They are joined by Raleigh (Asa Butterfield), a young officer fresh out of training, excited about his first real posting and the chance to serve under Stanhope. Raleigh’s naivety serves as a stark contrast to the other men’s impending fear as the tension rises and the attack draws ever closer.
In the past century, many filmmakers have attempted to put the Great War on screen in an effort to remember the fallen and draw lessons from their sacrifice. Here are some of the best.
All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
The war, which had finished just twelve years earlier, was still fresh in the minds of audiences upon All Quiet on the Western Front’s1930 release. Widely regarded as one of the greatest anti-war films ever made, the film follows a group of German recruits on their harrowing journey from the training ground to the killing fields. The film may have received praise upon its US release, but its German debut was another story. Joseph Goebbels denounced the film, publicly burned Erich Maria Remarque novel upon which it was based and encouraged Nazi gangs to disrupt screenings with stink bombs and sneezing powder.
Paths of Glory (1957)
The often fruitless, suicidal attacks, ordered by the top brass, in which soldiers went ‘over-the-top’ of the trenches to march into enemy gunfire, remain the defining image of WW1. Legendary director Stanley Kubrick tackled this subject when he adapted Humphrey Cobb’s novel concerning the true-life story of four French soldiers who were executed on charges of cowardice for their refusal to follow one such order. The original play failed on release due to its anti-war sentiment and the film version faced similar criticism and was censored in France, Spain, and Switzerland.
Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
With its sublime score and stirring imagery, David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia is widely regarded as one of the greatest films of all time, earning 10 Academy Award nominations in 1963 and winning seven of them. Differing from most of the entries on our list, the film moves the action from the trenches of France to the desert dunes of the Arabian peninsula. Peter O’Toole takes the role of the enigmatic Lawrence who would win the trust of the local desert tribes to launch a guerrilla war on the Turks.
Oh, What a Lovely War! (1969)
Musical comedy might not seem the most obvious genre for a film depicting WWI but Oh, What a Lovely War! is no ordinary war film. Providing an ironic commentary to the events of the war and criticism of the war in general, the film, and the stage play on which it’s based, uses period song and dance routines to entertain, as it reveals the shocking facts of the war and its casualties. The film is the directorial debut of actor Richard Attenborough who would later make WWII epic A Bridge Too Far, and later become known to a generation of moviegoers for his role as John Hammond in Jurassic Park.
Another title that takes the action out of the trenches is Peter Weir’s Gallipoli. The film begins in Western Australia and follows Mel Gibson, just two years after his breakout role in Mad Max, and Mark Lee who play a pair of young men who find themselves traveling across Australia and enlisting in the army as the war rages overseas. Shipped off to Cairo, they end up fighting in the bloody and brutal Gallipoli campaign against the Ottoman Empire.
A Very Long Engagement (2004)
The narrative of A Very Long Engagement takes place in France after the fighting of WWI has ended. It tells the fictional story of Mathilde (Audrey Tatou), a young woman who is searching for her fiancé Manech (Gaspard Ulliel) who went missing on the battlefields of Normandy. While most of the story takes place in 1920s France, the film cuts to action in trenches at the Battle of the Somme, in which Manech disappeared. Over 300,000 soldiers lost their lives during at the Somme in 1916 making it one of the bloodiest battles in human history, and A Very Long Engagement provides a poignant look at the repercussions of this terrible period of modern history.
War Horse (2011)
Steven Spielberg’s War Horse is based on Michael Morpurgo’s 1982 novel of the same name and the subsequent 2007 stage adaptation. It recounts the fictional journey of a British Army Thoroughbred horse called Joey throughout and following WWI, as he changes owners and experiences the horrific conditions of battle. War Horse was a critical and commercial success, being nominated for six Academy Awards (including Best Picture), two Golden Globes and five BAFTAs. Speaking of making a film that focuses on the experiences of a horse, Speilberg said:
Suddenly I’m faced with the challenge of making a movie where I not only had to watch the horse, I had to compel the audience to watch it along with me. I had to pay attention to what it was doing and understand its feelings. It was a whole new experience for me.
Lionsgate UK presents Journey’s End on Digital 1st June and Blu-ray & DVD 4th June 2018