Journey’s End, a drama about World War I, is a legend and landmark in the modern British theater. It is notable as the first grimly realistic war play. In it, there is none of the romanticism about war that led the naïve young poet Rupert Brooke to write in his poem “1914,” “Now God be thanked who has matched us with His hour” and to sentimentalize the dead soldiers as dreaming happy dreams of “laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,/ In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.” Both Brooke and the young Thomas Mann saw war as a cleansing, liberating, and purifying process, and Mann called peace “an element of civil corruption.” Such views were soon annihilated by the horrors of trench warfare. R. C. Sherriff, a wounded veteran of that war, knew better, and his play shows the stress, boredom, suffering, and slaughter that war produces. When the play was first staged, critic Hannen Swaffer called it “the greatest of all war plays,” and in 1962, G. Wilson Knight still judged it “the greatest war play of the century.”
Sherriff’s other plays—an ecological drama, a play about Napoleon in exile, several comedy-mysteries, a ghost story, and a drama about Romans in Britain—are literate, civilized, thoughtful, and forgettable, as are his novels. The success of Journey’s End, however, led its director to hire Sherriff to write screenplays, and as a screenwriter, Sherriff did some of his most notable work, including the production of such classics as The Invisible Man (1933), Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939), The Four Feathers (1939), That Hamilton Woman (1941), Odd Man Out (1947), Quartet (1949), and Trio (1950).