Journey’s End is a riveting play about British soldiers in the front line trenches during World War I written by R.C. Sherriff. The play was written in 1928 and has taken many forms from then until now. Audiences have enjoyed it in classical theatres, read it through a book, and recently could view it at cinemas.
Author and critique Amanda Phipps examined “newspaper reviews which highlight changing responses to R. C. Sherriff’s Journey’s End in three of the play’s major runs in 1928-1930, 1972 and 2011” (Phipps 59). Journey’s End has been a successful play but the feelings of viewers on this play and the conflict at hand have been shaped by the times. The first major showing of Journey’s End was in 1928 where the war was still fresh in the minds of the audience. Most individuals “[i]n the 1920s personal grievances meant people avoided judging the war” (Phipps 62).
Sherriff made sure his play was not seen as anti-war propaganda but as a poetic explanation in a soldier’s life and the patch he took paid out. Critiques like “The Daily Mail stated ‘every detail of the play rings true of infantry life’, whilst the Daily Chronicle claimed it presented ‘the war as the real fighting man knew it’”(Phipps 64). He brought the real everyday aspects into it which made it so popular and the play became a thing of remembrance for most of the audience that partook in the war.
Journey’s End returned after the Second World War in 1972 and this is one reason for the change in the audience’s views of the work. Most views were dampened due to World War II because the “Second World War had destroyed the compensatory belief, which was held by many, that the ‘Great War’ would be the war to end all wars”(Phipps 64).
Along with that the British were experiencing the Cold War and watching the American fight in the Vietnam War. The Vietnam War outraged many British citizens who protested against it and wars in general. This caused some individuals to have different views on the play. Especially “ in the 1970s viewed it as a naïve depiction of the realities of warfare and also found its language jingoistic”(Phipps 65). The play was greatly criticized and seen as not judgmental enough. Those that watched it did not hate the play but it did not sit well with the anti-war community.
Journey’s End was shown again in the year 2011 and again the state of the world changed everyone’s opinion on it. Stanhope was now seen as a true war hero. Critiques like “The Telegraph described him as a ‘brilliant leader of men’ and a representation of ‘old-fashioned English decency’. This change in response from the 1920s is even more interesting when considering how the different actors played Stanhope”(Phipps 73) and there were many more raving reviews like this.
Some say the actor portraying Stanhope did a good job by creating realism in the theater which may be another reason for the 2011 success. Others of this time liked it for having no agenda and it was just a play about good men. As said by “the Guardian … ‘all the more powerful… because it comes with no agenda’”(Phipps 68). The play wasn’t seen as some type of political stunt but a “positive portrayal of the British spirit”(Phipps 68), and that was welcomed in 2011. With every generation comes a new mindset with new ideals. Phipps said in her article “arts and media …have often represented the nation’s fluctuating responses towards the First World War”(Phipps 69) and this is why we get such a differing response towards it.
Over eighty-three years, we talked about there was probably three to four different generations of play watchers each individual from the last. The first group enjoyed the play because the war was still fresh in their minds and it reminded them of the men and women they served with. When in 1972 it was not seen as grand as the last time. Most said World War I would be the war to end all wars but that was not the case and people were not a fan of a war driven play especially the anti-war community, primarily in Britain. When the last rerun rolled around Great World Wars were known but not experienced. Audiences enjoyed Journey’s End because it was meant to entertain and explore World War I not politics it.