JOURNEY’S END

New film version of one of the most famous stories of the First World War gets thumbs up from West Country Inn...

A NEW film version of one of the most famous stories of the First World War is sure of an audience in one West Country inn.

For it’s where legendary playwright RC Sherriff penned the closing chapters of his drama Journey’s End. Fittingly enough, the Journey’s End in Ringmore, South Devon, takes its name from Sherriff’s iconic play.

And memorabilia connected to the playwright and his work still has pride of place in the bar.

‘We’ve got a programme from the premiere of the play signed by the actors and a poster from when the play was touring, plus RC Sherriff’s infantry badge,’ said Tracy Heneghan, who owns the Journey’s End with husband Conor.

‘Lots of people visit us because of the connection – historians and even people who are part of RC Sherriff’s family.’

In the 1920s – Journey’s End was written in 1928 – the South Hams coast was something of an artistic retreat.

Agatha Christie took inspiration for some of her work from nearby Burgh Island. Journey’s End, based on the writer’s own wartime experiences, was first performed at the Apollo Theatre in London by the Incorporated Stage Society on December 9, 1928, starring a young Laurence Olivier, and soon moved to other West End theatres for a two-year run.

It quickly became internationally popular, with numerous productions and tours in English and other languages. A 1930 film version was followed by other adaptations, and the play influenced other playwrights, including Noël Coward.

The play – which had been rejected many times – was made possible by the producer Maurice Browne and funding from his friends, Leonard and Dorothy Elmhirst, founders of the artistic estate around Dartington Hall, near Totnes.

With the Elmhirsts, the producer founded Maurice Browne Ltd, a West End company which put on a variety of plays between 1929 and 1935.

Their biggest success was Journey’s End – part of the proceeds was said to have been used at Dartington to convert a medieval barn into the Barn Theatre.

And the new film is being screened there until February 15 (dartington.org).

Set in the trenches in 1918 towards the end of the war, the story plays out in the officers’ dugout during the run up to the real-life events of Operation Michael, the final German attack that came close to breaking the Allies.

Sherriff, who died in 1975, considered calling it ‘Suspense or Waiting’, but eventually found a title in the closing line of a chapter of an unidentified book: “It was late in the evening when we came at last to our journey’s end.”

The new film’s star Paul Bettany had one particular person on his mind while filming.

His late Uncle Theo – a former army man himself – was who the actor based his portrayal of the wise and understanding Lieutenant Osborne on.

“I loved him so very much,” the 46-year-old said. “He was everything that was good about the stiff upper lip.”

Of Sherriff’s work, Bettany said: “I can’t think of an earlier piece that deals with PTSD.”

The film, released to coincide with the centenary of the end of the war in 1918, is on release now.

‘We’ll be sure to catch it,’ said Tracy.

This article first appeared in the Independent. To get the latest articles when they appear, buy the print edition every Sunday or subscribe to our online edition HERE.