Asa Butterfield: “I learnt more about the First World War making this movie than I ever did at school”

Starring as a young officer in new First World War movie, Journey’s End, Asa Butterfield talks to us about his experiences on set and the importance of Remembrance.

Based on RC Sherriff’s play and novel of the same name, Journey’s End is set in March 1918 as C-Company, led by a war-weary Captain Stanhope (played by Sam Claflin) arrives in northern France to take its turn in the front-line trenches.

Asa Butterfield, 20, plays Raleigh, a young new officer fresh out of training excited about his first real posting, and a chance to serve under Stanhope. Having previously starred in films such as The Boy In The Striped Pajamas and Martin Scorsese’s Hugo, this was Butterfield’s first time working on a film about the First World War.


Asa Butterfield as Raleigh in Journey's End

“It's almost unbelievable that someone would be so excited and so gung-ho about going to the front line and fighting for their country. It seems absurd but it really did happen,” says Butterfield.

“I hadn't read Journey's End prior to this, nor did I know all that much about the First World War. It's sort of brushed over when you compare it to other wars which are very much glorified, especially in movies. After reading the play and reading into it I thought it was an amazing opportunity to tell a really honest story about the war and the men who fought in it.

“I think we studied the First World War at school, but I definitely learnt more about the First World War making this movie than I ever did at school. I wasn't really a history buff! I didn't really study it past the point where it was compulsory, so it was an educational movie for me.”


Asa Butterfield stars in the film alongside Sam Claflin, Paul Bettany, Stephen Graham, Tom Sturridge and Toby Jones

Filming in Trenches

During production the cast spent two weeks filming in an existing trench network in Ipswich.

“That was massively useful having such an attention to detail and a grounded reality of an aspect of what these men were going through,” says Butterfield.

“Obviously we could never fully recreate it, we had nice warm showers to go back to, but it absolutely helped not only the actors but all the crew in giving us an appreciation of what these men would have been dealing with.”

Remembrance

The cast were also filming on Remembrance Sunday, which Butterfield found particularly poignant.

“We were all stood there in a trench and it was very eerie, but also poignant and emotional,” he explains.

“Coming up to the 100th year anniversary it's very appropriate to bring it back into people's minds.”

Reflecting on Remembrance, Butterfield adds: “For my generation I think it's much easier for us to forget about things because there is so much else going on. There is so much to look at, so much to learn about, so much to read, and so much to do. I think film is a very powerful way of reaching out.

“I think it’s important to learn from mistakes we've made and remember the casualties of those mistakes. To remember the severity and cost of war, and to remember the men and families who suffered from the war. It's a part of our history and you can't brush over that.”

View WW1 In A New Way

A hundred years on from the Battle of Passchendaele, watch a series of 360 videos to discover how the battle unfolded and experience what life was like on the front line.

Passchendaele 100

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