Director:           Saul Dibb

Stars:              Paul Bettany, Stephen Graham, Asa Butterfield

Running time: 107 mins

Ratings:           IMDB                      6.6      (IMDB score is weighted average of audience scores out of 10)

             Rotten Tomatoes    93%    (Rotten Tomatoes score is % of professional critic reviews that are

                                                                     positive)

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RC Sherriff famously drew on his own experiences in the trenches to write Journey’s End, his much-revived, regularly-taught 1928 play set on the tense eve of 1918’s Spring Offensive. That first-hand authenticity is what has kept the play alive for a full century.

It’s been filmed several times – from as far back as 1930 – but Saul Dibb’s new version is the first for decades, and a trip back down into the Stygian depths of a dugout where six men wait out their final days.

A fair bit of Sherriff’s text has been pruned – bye bye Captain Hardy’s earwig races – to get this film out into the trenches, simulating the mortar blasts, the white-knuckle trepidation before going over the top. On its modest budget, the film isn’t aiming for the epic scale of, say, War Horse. And in fact, the strength of the piece depends still on its confinement: the claustrophobia of the setting has an eerie, gaseous power which risks being dissipated when we go up for fresh air.

The Cumberbatches, Redmaynes and Hiddlestons of this world were all sought to star, after David Grindley’s much-repeated stage production put the play back on the map. But Dibb hasn’t settled for second-rate alternatives by any means.

Sam Claflin, as the broken, alchoholic Captain Stanhope, gives us a commanding study in despair, his zeal blighted by everything he’s seen, every new order from the unyielding chain of command. Gluing the unit together amid his sodden tantrums is the avuncular schoolteacher Osborne, his second-in-command. This is an excellent use of Paul Bettany: wise, fatigued, but knuckling down to his main job in the circumstances, which is finding every possible way to massage the other men’s morale.

As the freshly-recruited Lieutenant Raleigh, Asa Butterfield arrives bushy-tailed at the start, and feels like the right actor to suggest an innocence chipped away at by encroaching nerves. The role is a little hoary, maybe – it’s one of Sherriff’s most obvious devices to show the toll trench warfare quickly took on such greenhorns.

Trying to escape their stock types is the job facing everyone here – a task that the interestingly classless Toby Jones ticks off nicely as the affable cook, Mason, and Tom Sturridge struggles with a little as Hibbert, the panic-stricken malingerer. Sixth and by no means least is Stephen Graham, his face and stout frame perhaps the most convincing of the lot as a physical type you could well imagine on the Western Front.

TIM ROBEY

DAILY TELEGRAPH