Private Peaceful

Many of the elements that worked for Steven Spielberg's "War Horse" are present and correct in WWI drama "Private Peaceful," which, like "Horse," was adapted from a Michael Morpurgo novel.

With: George MacKay, Jack O'Connell, Alexandra Roach, Maxine Peake, Richard Griffiths, Frances de la Tour, John Lynch, Samuel Bottomley, Hero Fiennes-Tiffin, Izzy Meikle-Small, Kyle Summercorn, Stephen Kennedy, Anna Carteret, Eline Powell. (English, Flemish, French dialogue)

Many of the elements that worked for Steven Spielberg’s “War Horse” are present and correct in WWI drama “Private Peaceful,” which, like “Horse,” was adapted from a Michael Morpurgo novel. But this film’s much more modest budget, absence of Hollywood studio involvement, and lower-profile source material will all conspire to limit its theatrical prospects. More downstairs than upstairs in its depiction of life in the early part of the 20th century, “Private” could nevertheless see “Downton Abbey” viewers answer the bugle call, with more reporting for duty down the line for upscale tube viewing.

Following the contours of Morpurgo’s 2003 book, the story is told in flashback from the perspective of Devon village lad Thomas “Tommo” Peaceful. Suffering pangs of guilt over the accident that killed his gamekeeper father, young Tommo draws even closer to protective elder brother Charlie, but a rivalrous dynamic emerges as the characters enter their teens. Even though it’s sensitive Tommo (now played by George MacKay, “The Boys Are Back”) who truly loves Molly (Alexandra Roach, “The Iron Lady”), it’s Charlie (Jack O’Connell) who is close to her in age, and the two marry after she becomes pregnant. Tommo heads off to fight when war with Germany breaks out, while Charlie stays behind with his young bride. The fraternal bond is too strong, however, and (echoes of “War Horse”), he heads off to Flanders to look after his sibling, who has lied about his true age in order to enlist.

Although the story is intercut with glimpses of uniformed soldier Tommo, seemingly facing a court martial, “Private Peaceful” takes about an hour to deliver any actual wartime action. Until that arrives, the film comprehensively depicts the Peaceful boys’ home life with their mother, Hazel (Maxine Peake), who works for the local landowner (a suitably bumptious Richard Griffiths).

Screenwriter Simon Reade, who previously adapted the material for a BBC radio play and a one-man stage show, generously finds room for an array of supporting characters, including eldest brother Joe, who suffers from learning disabilities; a quartet of neighborhood pals; and the aptly nicknamed Grandma Wolf (Frances de la Tour). Veteran director Pat O’Connor (“Dancing at Lughnasa”) is well served by his lead actors: MacKay has a naturally soulful quality, deftly hinting at inner hurt, and O’Connell has Charlie’s cheeky grin and natural charisma down pat. Among the supporting turns, John Lynch’s relentlessly barking sergeant is one cliche that’s been seen too many times.

The drama hinges on the pic’s one major piece of withholding: the identity of the Peaceful brother who faces summary military justice. But the attempts to mislead the audience are ill advised, robbing the film of intended suspense. One more story about how the Great War’s casual disdain for human life planted the seeds for the social unrest that followed, the defiantly old-fashioned “Private Peaceful” nevertheless succeeds in hitting the right emotional notes, with a handy assist from Rachel Portman’s score.

Private Peaceful


Production: An Eagle Media release of an Eagle Media presentation of a Fluidity Films production in association with Poonamallee Prods., Peppermint Pictures. (International sales: Goldcrest, London.) Produced by Guy de Beaujeu, Simon Reade. Executive producers, Michael Morpurgo, Jack Bowyer, John Broxup, Martin Hill, Damian Perl, Jo Podmore, Nick Quested, Rhys Thomas, Austin Shaw, Rhian Williams. Co-producer, Sue De Beauvoir. Directed by Pat O'Connor. Screenplay, Simon Reade, based on the novel by Michael Morpurgo.

Crew: Camera (color), Jerzy Zielinski; editor, Humphrey Dixon; music, Rachel Portman; production designer, Adrian Smith; art directors, David McHenry, Sam Stokes; set decorator, Shonagh Smith; costume designer, Anushia Nieradzik; sound (Dolby Digital), John Mooney; supervising sound editor, Adrian Rhodes; re-recording mixers, Rhodes, Jamie Roden; special effects supervisor, Colin Gorry; visual effects supervisor, Matt Kasmir; visual effects, Munky; stunt coordinator, Andy Bennett; assistant director, Will McDonagh; second unit directors, Sue de Beauvoir, Reade; second unit camera, Stuart Biddlecombe; casting, Gemma Hancock, Sam Stevenson. Reviewed at Soho Screening Rooms, London, Oct. 9, 2012. Running time: 102 MIN.

With: With: George MacKay, Jack O'Connell, Alexandra Roach, Maxine Peake, Richard Griffiths, Frances de la Tour, John Lynch, Samuel Bottomley, Hero Fiennes-Tiffin, Izzy Meikle-Small, Kyle Summercorn, Stephen Kennedy, Anna Carteret, Eline Powell. (English, Flemish, French dialogue)

More Film

  • Amy Adams (left) as Lynne Cheney

    Film News Roundup: Makeup Artists and Hair Stylists Guild Sets Awards Show for Jan. 11

    In today’s film news roundup, the 2020 awards season schedule gets finalized; AFM will cover immersive content; “Murderous Trance” and “7 Days to Vegas” get acquired; and Kate Katzman has been added to “The Comeback Trail.” AWARDS DATE The Makeup Artists & Hair Stylists Guild has set Jan. 11 as the date for its seventh [...]

  • Disney Pandora World Of Avatar, Lake

    The Piano Guys Play 'Avatar' Theme in Disney World (Watch)

    The YouTube sensation The Piano Guys have taken a trip to the world of Pandora for a performance of the theme to “Avatar.” Shot in the bioluminescent floating forest in Disney World, cellist Steven Sharp Nelson and pianist Jon Schmidt put their spin on the score to James Cameron’s 2009 blockbuster. The video immerses the [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    Billy Drago, 'Untouchables' Star, Dies at 73

    Billy Drago, who often played harming but chilling gangster roles and appeared in Brian De Palma’s “The Untouchables” and Clint Eastwood’s “Pale Rider,” died Monday in Los Angeles of complications from a stroke. He was 73. The character actor played Al Capone’s henchman Frank Nitti in 1987’s “The Untouchables.” On TV series “Charmed,” he put [...]

  • Grant Sputore

    'I Am Mother' Director Tackles Margot Robbie-Produced Thriller 'Augmented'

    Warner Bros. has hired “I Am Mother” director Grant Sputore to helm the science-fiction thriller “Augmented” which Margot Robbie is producing, Variety has learned exclusively. Michael Lloyd Green is rewriting an original script by Mark Townend. Denise Di Novi and Tom Ackerley are also producing. Production companies are Robbie’s LuckyChap and Di Novi’s eponymous Di [...]

  • Miley Cyrus

    Miley Cyrus Teases 'Charlie's Angels' Collaboration with Ariana Grande and Lana Del Rey

    Three of the biggest female pop stars have joined forces in a new song for the Elizabeth Banks-directed reboot of “Charlie’s Angels.” In a tweet posted Wednesday, Miley Cyrus hinted at a collaboration between herself, Lana Del Rey, and Ariana Grande in the forthcoming film. Alongside a 14-second teaser, originally posted by Sony Pictures, the [...]

  • AMC TheatresShop signs, Los Angeles, America

    AMC Subscription Program Hits 860k Members

    AMC’s subscription service, launched in 2018 as a challenger to MoviePass, has reached 860,129 members in its first 12 months. Given the unwieldy moniker of AMC Stubs A-List, the service costs between $19.95 to $23.95 per month depending on where users live. The company initially said it had hoped to sign up 500,000 members in [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content