Based on a children’s novel by War Horse author Michael Morpurgo, Private Peaceful is another First World War tale of suffering, loyalty and endurance set amid the barbed wire and bomb craters of the Western Front.
This time, however, the protagonists are human rather than equine. Forester’s sons Tommo and Charlie Peaceful grow up in conditions of feudal hardship in rural Devon. Both go to work for the tyrannical local landowner and both fall in love with the same girl. But despite this awkward romantic rivalry, when the brothers sign up to fight in the trenches, the steadfast bond between them endures the horrors of war.
Solidly directed by Pat O’Connor, Private Peaceful lacks the epic spectacle of Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of War Horse but largely avoids that film’s sometimes-excessive sentimentality. As the brothers, George Mackay and Jack O’Connell deliver sympathetic naturalistic performances, as does Alexandra Roach as the girl who comes between them, while there are riper turns from the likes of Richard Griffiths (the cruel landowner) and Frances de la Tour (the sour local shopkeeper).
And if there is something a little old-fashioned and televisual about the film’s family-friendly handling of its subject, the filmmakers’ restraint ensures that the story remains quietly moving.
In cinemas from Friday 12th October.
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