Private Peaceful
dir Pat O'Connor
scr Simon Reade
prd Guy de Beaujeu, Simon Reade
with George MacKay, Jack O'Connell, Alexandra Roach, Maxine Peake, Kyle Summercorn, Richard Griffiths, Frances de la Tour, John Lynch, Mykola Allen, Mike Noble, Sam Frenchum, Eline Powell
release UK 12.Oct.12
12/UK 1h44
Private Peaceful
On the farm: MacKay and O'Connell

peake griffiths de la tour
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Private Peaceful Based on the novel by Michael Morpurgo (War Horse), this WWI drama has the usual themes of camaraderie, lost innocence and families torn apart. But the filmmakers never reveal anything new, undermining the story's emotion with simplistic storytelling.

After a happy childhood in early 1900s Devon, life turns difficult for the Peaceful family, as three brothers Tommo, Charlie and simple-minded Joe (MacKay, O'Connell and Summercorn) and their mum Hazel (Peake) struggle to survive. Then war breaks out, and Tommo lies about his age to fight, partly to escape the fact that the girl he loves, Molly (Roach), is in love with Charlie. Then out of guilt ,Charlie joins him in the trenches. Will either of them make it home?

The film opens with Tommo in a military prison cell, although we don't know why. After returning to his youth (when Tommo and Charlie are played by Samuel Bottomley and Hero Fiennes-Tiffin), the story catches up to this prologue for a final act that twists and turns in powerfully emotional ways. But by now we have been gently lulled into accepting whatever fate holds for these young men, which waters down what should be a devastating climax.

This certainly isn't the actors' fault. They invest their characters with lively edges and passionate undercurrents. MacKay and O'Connell are particularly good in roles that could easily be mopey and dull, while Roach and Peake add spark to underwritten side characters. By contrast, Lynch is bluster and venom as the cruelly officious battlefield sergeant. And it always helps to have the mischievous Griffiths and de la Tour on screen, even in minor roles.

Even with the sweeping emotional story, it's difficult to see this as much more than a nicely made TV movie, shying away from difficult story elements and never depicting the true complexity of brothers whose relationship is so fiercely tested. There are moments of lively humour and intense terror along the way, plus vivid recreations of life in both a small village and the grim trenches of the Great War. But the abrupt ending doesn't leave as much of an impact as it should. Instead we wonder if this might have made a better miniseries.

cert 12 themes, violence, language 23.Jul.12

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© 2012 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall