Film Review by Kam Williams
Tommo (George MacKay) and Charlie Peaceful (Jack O’Connell) had a healthy sibling rivalry while growing up in Devon at the dawn of the 20th Century. The brothers were raised on a sprawling country estate owned by a family of aristocratic Brits.
Their father (Stephen Kennedy) was employed there as both gamekeeper and forester. In that capacity, he was able to afford to send his sons to a private school run with an iron fist by a sadistic headmaster (Richard Griffiths), a retired military colonel.
Everything changes when their dad dies in a logging accident. Since their homemaker mother (Maxine Peake) can no longer afford the rent or tuition, they soon lose the only life they’ve ever known. More importantly, the pubescent adolescents have to leave behind Molly (Alexandra Roach), a beautiful classmate both have a crush on.
Despite moving away, Tommo and Charlie venture back as teens to frolic in the forest with the irresistible object of their affection. A bit of a tease, Molly initially refuses to pick between her ardent admirers, instead only promising to marry one “Mr. Peaceful” while assuring that “We’ll be happy until the day we die.”
This is the premise underpinning Private Peaceful, a bittersweet love story based on Michael Morpurgo’s young adult novel of the same name. The book was previously adapted into a play which debuted at the Royal Theater in 2004.
Directed by Pat O’Connor (Sweet November), the screen version is an intriguing romance drama which takes a sharp turn about midway through when Tommo and Charlie enlist in the army and ship off to serve their country in Flanders’ fields. However, there remains concern about Molly who’d announced her unplanned pregnancy shortly before the outbreak of World War I.
Who’s the daddy? Will the Peacefuls survive? These are the pivotal questions left to be addressed between bombs bursting in air. Trench warfare as the backdrop for a tawdry love triangle about as incestuous as it gets.
Very Good (3 stars)
Running time: 102 minutes
Distributor: BBC America