DVD Review - Private Peaceful

Jack O'Connell (left) and George Mackay
in a scene from 'Private Peaceful'
Based on the novel by Michael Morpurgo, Simon Reade's screenplay seems to juggle guilt, the guilt between two brothers in England in the World War I era. In fact, the film, directed by Pat O'Connor, follows the two brothers and their family from 1908 to 1916, the time book-ended with two significant deaths in the brothers' lives. The first twenty minutes have the brothers played by child actors. After that, adult or older actors portray the brothers, and I understand why they did it, but I would have preferred O'Connor ditch that first twenty minutes or so.

George Mackay (Pride and For Those In Peril) stars as Tommo Peaceful, the youngest of the aforementioned brothers. He works on a farm of a retired Colonel. He lives in a small cottage with his two older brothers and his widowed mother. He becomes supremely infatuated with the young woman who also works there. He obsesses, but, he never approaches and tells her how he feels. He instead tells his second eldest brother.

Jack O'Connell (Starred Up and Unbroken) co-stars as Charlie Peaceful, the middle of three brothers. His eldest brother Joe is autistic and is incapable of working. It's the start of World War I and long before autism was a diagnosis, but his widowed mother takes care of Joe. With no father, Charlie and Tommo have to work, but Charlie disobeys an order from the Colonel and loses his job. This foreshadows a climactic moment later in the film. That is, however, separate from an early climactic moment that sinks the character.

Tommo tells Charlie that he is in love with Molly, played by Alexandra Roach (The Iron Lady and Anna Karenina), a fellow farm hand. Almost immediately, Charlie seduces Molly and impregnates her. Once Tommo finds out, he is devastated. He is forced to get over it. I'm not sure if Reade's script had more and O'Connor's direction and editing eliminated it, but Charlie's seduction of Molly and Tommo's forgiveness happen too quickly.

I didn't buy the love affair between Charlie and Molly. The film should have built that up more if we are to truly accept it. It smacks of a huge betrayal by Charlie against Tommo that never is really reconciled. Instead, the movie immerses us in trench warfare, but quickly becomes about Charlie's battle of wills with a Sergeant, played by John Lynch (The Fall and Sliding Doors), a Sergeant who is tough and really gung-ho about war.

The climax is Charlie and along side Tommo disobeying an order from the Sergeant. They disobey, Charlie more vocally, an order to rush into German machine-fire, which more than likely would have resulted in their deaths. This insubordination puts them under a court martial. The punishment for which is also death at the hands of a firing squad.

Again, I'm not sure if Reade's script had more and O'Connor's direction or editing eliminated it, but the court martial and subsequent punishment happen too quickly. Only one of the two brothers is punished or in other hands executed by firing squad. The movie wants the reveal of which brother is executed to be a surprise, but that surprise comes at the cost of good drama and character development or redemption that could have been had, if not for the obfuscation.

Two Stars out of Five.
Not Rated in US / 12A in UK.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 42 mins.


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