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Review: British drama ‘Journey’s End’ takes a deep dive into trenches of World War I

Sam Claflin, from left, Asa Butterfield, Paul Bettany, Toby Jones and Stephen Graham in the movie "Journey's End."
Sam Claflin, from left, Asa Butterfield, Paul Bettany, Toby Jones and Stephen Graham in the movie “Journey’s End.”
(Good Deed Entertainment)

For a movie based on 90-year-old source material, “Journey’s End” works remarkably well. It’s a tense, absorbing, superbly acted look at a band of British soldiers in World War I as they wait to fight and ultimately battle German troops over the course of several ill-fated days in March 1918 — exactly 100 years ago.

Unlike “Dunkirk,” to which this film may evoke passing comparisons, “Journey’s End” is mainly about character. Perhaps that’s a result of its story originating as a 1928 stage play by R.C. Sherriff (who would later turn it into a novel with Vernon Bartlett; James Whale directed the first feature version, released in 1930) and focusing on the central figures as people, as opposed to strictly soldiers. This provides an intimacy that allows for deep emotional investment in the characters’ collective plight.

The men of C Company, stationed on the front lines in northern France, include the traumatized, alcoholic Capt. Stanhope (Sam Claflin); naïve new arrival Raleigh (Asa Butterfield), an old family friend of Stanhope; kindly, avuncular Lt. Osborne (Paul Bettany); beleaguered cook Mason (Toby Jones); and others (Tom Sturridge, Stephen Graham). They’re a supportive bunch despite leader Stanhope’s unpredictable rantings and meltdowns.

Although director Saul Dibb and writer-producer Simon Reade keep much of the action confined to the Brits’ close-quartered trenches and dugouts, the film rarely feels static or stagy. It’s a fine and memorable effort.

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‘Journey’s End’

Rating: R, for some language and war images

Running time: 1 hour, 47 minutes

Playing: The Landmark, West Los Angeles

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