Private Peaceful is based on a novel by Michael Morpurgo. I read the book when I was very young – possibly eleven or twelve – and I found it extraordinarily affecting. It was told is such a simple but memorable way and the final few pages still haunt me to this day.
This film adaptation doesn’t quite capture the power of the story. The book is told by contrasting the beauty and optimism of a childhood in Devon with the cruel realities of the trenches of WWI. The film captures the horror of war rather well, but doesn’t quite get the contrast right. We observe the childhood of the two leading characters – the Peaceful brothers – for the first half of the movie, but the filming style is a little to gritty and realistic, so when we are thrown into the blood and mud of the war the change isn’t as startling as it should be.
George Mackay and Jack O’Connell, who play the two brothers when they are in their teens, are generally fine but their performances are a little too obvious at times, a flaw that is aggravated by the intensely real feel of the production values (such as the harnessing of natural light and the unshowy visual style).
However, there is still a lot to admire and enjoy about the film, even if it doesn’t reach the highs of the other recent Morpurgo-adap, Spielberg’s superb War Horse. Maxine Peake (pictured left), one of our country’s finest actors, is excellent in the role of the boy’s widowed mother, and Francis De La Tour gives an enjoyably unsympathetic performance as the family aunt who is eager to seduce the local landowner (Richard Griffiths).
The left of centre politics and comments about exploiting the working classes are not very subtle or sophisticated, but the script is well-meaning, and director Pat O’Connor handles the war scenes well whilst clearly trying to cope with a rather tiny budget.
It’s a shame, in a way, that this film didn’t get a very large release, as I believe it has the potential to be a hit with young viewers who like stories with heart and a mixture of light and dark. Hopefully it will find a larger audience on blu-ray and DVD. To be honest, the film feels fairly like a television drama, and though it is probably best enjoyed on a big screen, I think it will work perfectly well as a movie to watch in the home.
Private Peaceful (2012), directed by Pat O’Connor, is released on blu-ray disc and DVD by Eagle Media, Certificate 12. It is currently being screened at the Harbour Lights Cinema, Southampton.