SCREENDAILY – For Sam Claflin, it was seeing Journey’s End on the stage that first ignited his passion to play the role of young First World War officer Captain Stanhope. The Suffolk-born actor was in his second year at London acting school Lamda when students in the graduating year presented the 1928 RC Sherriff play.
“I just remember being completely spellbound,” says Claflin. “Being completely in awe, not only of the performances, but the story and the characters and the relationships and the world that was created. I remember sitting there in the audience thinking, ‘I have to do this play. I have to somehow find a way of doing this professionally.’”
That chance seemed to come when theatre director David Grindley, who had mounted a successful version of the play in 2004, sounded out Claflin about starring in a revival. “We sat in the Groucho, and I was basically swearing, very excited,” recalls the actor. “But we couldn’t. I was in the middle of doing The Hunger Games. There was an array of scheduling conflicts.”
Instead, the 2010 Screen International Star of Tomorrow became attached to a film version, adapted by Simon Reade and produced by Reade and Guy de Beaujeu — who had previously collaborated on the 2012 film version of Michael Morpurgo’s First World War novel Private Peaceful. After two years of rather tentative momentum, the film finally came together for a pre-Christmas shoot in 2016, with Saul Dibb, whose credits include The Duchess and Suite Francaise, in the director’s chair.
Sherriff’s play is set in an officer’s bunker beneath a British trench in northern France in the spring of 1918. The men of C-company, commanded by Stanhope, are in the front line, and braced for an imminent German attack. The battle-weary Stanhope hits the whisky bottle to get him through each night, and suffers shame and angry self-loathing when his degeneration is witnessed by teenage officer Raleigh (Asa Butterfield), a younger boy who idolised him at school and who is placed into the company for his very first posting. Reade in fact based his adaptation partly on Sherriff’s later novel version, which opens out the action beyond the dugout without sacrificing its claustrophobic essence.