two movie brothers go off to war, it is a lead pipe cinch one of them is not
coming back. The questions will be which one and under what circumstances. The
answers will be revealed in a series of flashbacks throughout Pat O’Connor’s
WWI drama, Private Peaceful (trailer here), which opens this
Friday in New York.
from the novel by War Horse author
Michael Morpurgo, Private will
incorporate the themes of Paths of Glory and
Saving Private Ryan within trenches
of Flanders, but Simon Reade’s screenplay scrupulously takes its time
establishing the Peaceful family dynamics before reaching that point. Charlie
Peaceful is the older, brasher brother, who always looked out for the shier,
more sensitive Thomas “Tommo” Peaceful. Poor Tommo will become increasingly withdrawn,
first blaming himself for the death of their gamekeeper father and then
watching Charlie marry Molly Monks, the childhood friend they both love, after
getting her in a family way.
Tommo Peaceful volunteers as a way of escaping his broken heart, but he quickly
learns the bitter realities of trench fighting and chemical warfare. Soon his
brother enlists, despite his parental obligations, in order to keep Tommo
alive. Naturally, Charlie Peaceful clashes badly with the gung ho Sgt. Hanley,
ultimately leading to the court martial seen in deliberately cagey snippets
throughout the film.
notion that the officers and war boosters were blithely anticipating previous
wars is hardly a new insight, but Private
adds a clumsy element of class warfare in the person of the corpulent
Colonel, who owns the estate employing the Peacefuls’ father and subsequently
exploiting the Peaceful mother and brothers. “Guns and horses, that’s how we
beat the Boers,” he blusters. As great as the late Richard Griffiths was (we
prefer to remember him in Withnail &
I rather than Harry Potter), his
turn as the Colonel is total caricature.
the other hand, the fraternal drama is rather honest stuff, quite nicely turned
by two of the UK’s fastest rising stars. Private
technically predates ’71 and For Those in Peril, clearly showing why
Yann Demange picked Jack O’Connell as the young face of war’s chaos in the
former, while George MacKay demonstrates an affinity for guilt-tormented
brothers that would also manifest in the latter.
fact, O’Connell is considerably more dynamic here than he is convincingly
portraying Demange’s overwhelmed fresh recruit. Indeed, it is the young cast
members who carry Private, including
the smaller supporting players, such as Eline Powell, who is terrific as Anna,
Tommo’s potential French love interest.
While it lacks the tragic sweep of Galipoli, Private is an effectively micro-focused period anti-war film that
should be considered a cut or two above standard PBS Masterpiece programming. O’Connor balances the familial drama with
the horrors of war well enough in the third act, but tarries somewhat in the
mid-section devoted to the difficult days following the senior Peaceful’s
death. Earnest and respectable, Peaceful
Private is recommended on balance for fans of British literary adaptations
when it opens this Friday (10/31) in New York at the AMC Empire.
Labels: British Cinema, Jack O'Connell, WWI films