Film Review: Journey’s End (2017)

Journey’s End is a stage play written by R.C. Sherrif, and first performed in 1928, ten years after the period in which it was set. An anti-war play, it focuses on a few days around the German offensive in the Spring of 1918, during WW1.

It was first filmed in 1930, starring Colin Clive, but I have never seen that version. However, it was also filmed for television by the BBC in 1988, starring Jeremy Northam in the lead as Captain Stanhope. That remained the definitive version for me, with a superb cast sticking to the spirit of the original play. In this version, some of the action sequences were shown on film, something the play avoided due to theatrical constraints.

Most of what makes the play effective is the claustrophobic atmosphere of life in dugouts and trenches, viewed from the perspective of the officers, and their cooks and servants. The 1988 version deviated from this slightly, but remained powerful and compelling to watch.

So now we have the new version, with Samuel Clafin as Stanhope, Asa Butterfield as the young and impressionable Raleigh, and Paul Bettany excellent as the older experienced lieutenant known to all as ‘Uncle’. Add Toby Jones as the cook, and Stephen Graham as Lieutenant Trotter, and the casting is about as good as it gets these days.

The stresses and strains of trench warfare are all there. Men reaching breaking point, officers living on whisky to get through each day, and senior commanders issuing seemingly pointless orders from comfortable accommodation behind the lines. Social class is maintained in the mud and deprivation, and we have the added complication that Stanhope is the boyfriend of Raleigh’s sister back home, so idolised by the new arrival.

Tension builds as the expected German attack comes ever closer, exacerbated by last-minute orders to attack a German trench to capture a prisoner. We have a cowardly officer unwilling to play his part, and other stiff-upper lip officers pretending all is well, in order to maintain the morale of the men.

As a film, it is beautifully photographed in widescreen; with muted colours suiting the mood, and dingy scenes in the candlelit dugouts nicely done too. It never feels less than completely authentic, not for one moment. If you had never heard of the play, or seen the earlier BBC film, you would no doubt have thought it was a wonderfully moving production. Paul Bettany is quietly outstanding as ‘Uncle’, and young Butterfield looks as if he is actually living in 1918, with his wide-eyed enthusiasm concealing inner fears.

But I have seen the BBC film, and Jeremey Northam is magnificent as Stanhope in that. Tim Spall wipes the floor with Stephen Graham in the role of Trotter, and Edward Petherbridge is even better than Bettany as ‘Uncle’. So my advice is to try to watch the 1988 version. If you can access it, here it is on You Tube. It is not a great print, unfortunately.

But if for some reason you can’t watch this, the new film is still very good indeed.
Here’s a trailer.

One film, two versions: The Vanishing

In 1988, I watched a riveting European thriller, a Dutch/French co-production called ‘Spoorloss’. The title was changed to ‘The Vanishing’, for British audiences. I hardly recognised anyone in the film, and of course the subtitles for both languages didn’t concern me in the least. It was made by the Dutch director George Sluizer, also someone I wasn’t very familiar with.

The story is simple. A Dutch couple are on holiday in France. It is obvious that they are very much in love. They stop at a service station to buy petrol, and the woman goes into the shop. She doesn’t return to her husband (Rex), or the car, and he begins to search for her frantically. The Police are called, and a general search is ordered, but no trace is found, and he has no option but to return to Holland.

Three years later, and Rex is till searching for her, but now beginning to lose hope. He has a new girlfriend, and she helps him, as he has received anonymous postcards suggesting if he returns to France, he can discover what happened to his wife. He returns to the area, where he is approached by a man who tells him he is the kidnapper, and he offers to tell the truth about what happened, if Rex accompanies him somewhere. With no plot spoilers, I will not ruin what is a truly riveting ending. Suffice to say it is a wonderful film, and I recommend it to everyone.

In 1993, I read that the film was being remade in Hollywood, by the same director. The cast of A-list stars was led by Jeff Bridges, along with Keifer Sutherland, Sandra Bullock, and Nancy Travis. How bad could it be? I thought. Great cast, same director, same story, and US locations. I didn’t bother to go to the cinema, instead buying the film on VHS. That answered my question.

Very bad indeed.

Everything was overblown. The couple were played by Sutherland and Bullock, and didn’t seem to fit. The bad guy was played by Jeff Bridges, with his ‘How to be a villain’ book open on page one. As if that wasn’t bad enough, they then went and CHANGED THE ENDING, rendering everything that had gone before into a complete waste of time and talent. The critics were not happy, and neither was I.

Significant Songs (189)

Perfect

I think of this as a one-hit wonder, as I can never recall if Fairground Attraction had another hit, or if I ever listened to any more of their songs. However, vocalist Eddi Reader gained a large fan base, which she took into a solo career that continues to this day. As well as being a singer songwriter, Eddi branched out into acting, and also became known for her activity on the political scene in Scotland. In 2006 she received the M.B.E., for her services to the arts.

But I digress.

Back in 1988, songs like this one were not my thing at all. It was number one in the charts, and held placings in the top twenty for three months after that. It was also the winner of the Brit Award for Best Single, in 1989. I managed to ignore it for a while, but constant radio plays finally drove it into my head, where it has stayed ever since. When I hear it again now, I actually like it.

Significant Songs (171)

Real Gone Kid

Scottish band Deacon Blue stole their name from the Steeley Dan song of the same name, so that grabbed my attention, in 1987. Fronted by lead vocalists and married couple Ricky Ross and Lorraine McIntosh, they didn’t really fit into a genre. Their songs were clever, well constructed, and catchy. By the release of their second album in 1988, they were enjoying success in the UK charts, and this single from it was in the top ten.

They continued to tour until 1994, playing to sell-out audiences, and building on success. But when the drummer left that year, the band split, and were not heard of for five years, until reforming in 1999. With a change of line-up, they still continue to perform today, and had huge sales of their Greatest Hits album, released in 1994.

Significant Songs (150)

Anything For You

I have an on/off relationship with the singer, Gloria Estefan. I like her ballads, but I am less enamoured with her faster records. They lack the soulful feel of her Cuban roots, despite her best efforts. She is also outspoken against the Cuban regime, from her comfortable life in Florida. That political aspect of her career doesn’t sit well with me at all.

However, in this series I always give credit for talent. And if I like a song, I am prepared to forgive any negatives about the performer, on almost every occasion. When I first heard this ballad in 1988, I was entranced by both her voice, and the lyrics. On the surface, it is nothing special. But it really got inside me, and if anything I like it even more as I have got older. One to keep, and always a joy to listen to.

Deadline For My Memories

I am well aware that music taste is something that cannot be forced, and rarely changes. Fans of Metal do not, as a rule, suddenly stop liking it, and the same goes for lifelong soul boys like me. I was brought up with records, and recording artists, as my father became a salesman for Pye Records in 1960, when I was only 8 years old. For the next ten years, he either sold records, promoted artists, or worked in the retail of records. My own second job was selling records, admittedly very cheap ones, for the company called Saga Records. For those not old enough to remember, they were copies of the current chart hits, or old classics and out of royalty stuff, performed by unknown artists (mostly), and sold for less than £1.  They were available in all sorts of outlets, from petrol stations to clothes shops, and even record shops! Although very popular at the time, the concept seems laughable now.

I later progressed to working in retail record shops for a while. One was in Piccadilly Circus, the other across London, in Leyton. The customers in these two shops could not have been more different. In the West End, we had queues outside the door for the latest Led Zeppelin album (Led Zeppelin 3, 1970), and later that year, in East London, we sold out of Clive Dunn’s ‘Grandad’ in less than an hour. I learned very quickly that different tastes have to be taken into consideration.

My taste in music is nothing if not varied. There are the soul, Tamla-Motown, and ska roots of course, as well as some classical music, and the better-known operas. American music of the 1970’s, typified by Steely Dan, Frank Zappa, The James Gang, and many others; alongside The Beach Boys, CSNY, and Bob Dylan. Van Morrison also has an enduring place in my CD collection, not to mention Jazz in many forms, though particularly the work of Miles Davis. Latin beats, Sambas, Mambo, even Cajun, it is all in there somewhere. Later on, there was The Jam, The Style Council, The Blow Monkeys, Swing out Sister, the great revival of British music, in so many styles and forms. Drum and Bass, Dance, House and Garage, they all caught my attention too. Baby D’s anthem ‘Let me be your fantasy’, was the highlight of 1992 for me, as two years earlier, ‘Groove is in the heart’ by Deee-Lite had been.

Pop did not pass me by either. Madonna, Janet Jackson, Hue and Cry, ABC, Heaven 17, Inner City, all these lurk in my CD boxes. And Bowie of course; almost everything the great man has ever recorded. The crossover from DJ’s attracted me too. Artful Dodger, Fatboy Slim, despite my age at the time, (47) I was really excited by them. Then there were the balladeers, old and new; Corrinne Bailey Rae, Sarah Vaughan, Jimmy Scott, Edith Piaf, Adele, all had their place. And the diminutive youngster from North London, Amy Winehouse, who stole my ears, and my heart, with her amazing voice. But did I have a perfect CD, one where every track was worth a listen, that would be timeless, and that I would never tire of? Listening to so many over the years, I found myself skipping tracks, almost subconsciously. Past favourites faded with time, and I fell into the familiar habit of buying ‘Greatest Hits’ compilations, to avoid those songs that did not grab me. I have given this idea a lot of thought, and I think that I have found it. The CD I always listen to, and never tire of; the one that I would save in a fire, if there could only be one. It may surprise you…

In 1988, I heard a record on the car radio. I liked it so much, I stopped the car to listen to the rest of it, and to discover who had recorded it. It was called ‘Talking with myself’, and was by a group that I had never heard of, Electribe 101. I went to a record shop that weekend, and bought it as a single CD. I read that the vocals were credited to Billy Ray Martin, but I had never heard of her. I had no Internet in those days, so it was not very easy to find out more. Two years later, I heard that distinctive voice once again, on a song called ‘Tell me when the fever ended’. Later that year, I saw that Electribe 101 had finally released an album, ‘Electribal memories’, and I bought it immediately. It had both the previous tracks, as well as the haunting ‘You’re Walking’, and all the vocals were by the amazing Billy Ray Martin. I later realised that she was also singing on the hits of the chart-topping group S-Express, something I had been unaware of. The band split in 1992, without a second album release, and I presumed that would be that.  Billy Ray Martin had apparently returned to her native Germany, and life went on, with new sounds appearing daily to capture my interest.

In 1995, I was 43 years old. I was settling into a house in Docklands, and enjoying music from the likes of Seal, Montel Jordan, and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. One day, again in the car, I heard the unmistakable, precise tones that could only be Billy Ray Martin, once again. The driving beat, a strange contrast to the perfect diction, reeled me in immediately, and I waited in a car park, to hear the name of the song. It was ‘Your Loving Arms’, and I was excited to hear that it was the first single released from the forthcoming album. The next day, I was in a record shop, disappointed to hear that it was to be a vinyl release only. I did still have a record player, but it was a nuisance to get it out, set it up, and put it away again. I had to wait more than three months, until 1996, before I could get the CD release of ‘Deadline For My Memories’, the most complete and compelling album I would ever own.

I am not trying to convert anyone. I don’t expect you to suddenly like this music, if you never did before; no more than I will ever become a die-hard fan of Country and Western. If this style of music, and the haunting vocal range is not to your liking, no amount of words written on this post will make you think otherwise. This is a personal journey, with an equally individual conclusion. However, if this is new to you, and you have never heard any of her music, or your mind is open to new experiences, I would love it if you looked further, tried it out, and made up your own mind. I will not follow the format of listing tracks, describing them, and writing about why I like them, though I will add some links. Almost 1200 words about one CD is enough, I reckon. Feel free to let me know what you think. It is too late to change my mind anyway.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Deadline-For-My-Memories/dp/B001F5VUGM/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1373288480&sr=8-2&keywords=deadline+for+my+memories

ENJOY!