With the permission of the playwright, Howard Barker vividly adapted R C Sherriff’s celebrated 1929 World War One play Journey’s End for the screen, making the protagonists Royal Flying Corps pilots and setting the action in the air as well as on the ground .
In 1917, Peter Firth, newly commissioned in the Royal Flying Corps, is posted to the squadron in France commanded by Malcom McDowell. There Firth finds McDowell, whom he had hero-worshipped when he was his house captain at school, is now drinking heavily, his nerves shot to pieces, and concerned that Firth might tell his sister Jane Anthony, whom he loves, what is happening. Firth, guided by McDowell’s avuncular second-in-command Christopher Plummer, rapidly comes to understand the appalling pressure under which McDowell operates and retains his hero-worship, especially after McDowell saves his life during his first flight.
Firth is chosen to pilot Plummer on a reconnaissance mission during which Plummer is killed after taking the requisite photographs and is appalled that a planned celebration in the mess still goes ahead. Later Firth realizes he is not alone in being upset and joins other pilots on a trip to Rouen where he loses his virginity to Pascale Christophe. On Firth’s seventh day with the squadron, McDowell has to order him to take the place of flier Simon Ward who has been driven made with fear on a dangerous mission against German observation balloons. Most of the squadron fail to return – and the next day McDowell welcomes three new and very young replacements…
UK / 1976
Director: Jack Gold
Writer: Howard Barker, from the play Journey’s End by R C Sherriff
Cast: Malcolm McDowell, Christopher Plummer, Simon Ward, Peter Firth, John Gielgud, Trevor Howard, Richard Johnson, Ray Milland