Pat O’Connor’s Private Peaceful (2012) is a finely-told story of two young brothers, battling the ups n downs of childhood, the confusion and difficulties in adolescence and two of the more troubling things that could happen during the life of a young man: fighting a war for your country and falling in love. With some seriously fine performances and a simple but effective visual style that helps establish the film as a believable period piece, O’Connor’s film is a solid adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s novel.
Set in the Devonshire countryside during the years leading up to the First World War, Private Peaceful is a classic rites of passage story about Charlie and Tommo Peaceful and the exuberance and pain of their teenage love for the same girl, along with the pressures of their feudal family life, the horrors and folly of the ensuing war and the ultimate price of courage and cowardice.
It’s immediately apparent that O’Connor was shooting for a classic British feel, both visually and tonally with this film, and by juxtaposing the difficulties faced by a working class family amidst a sparse and rolling English countryside, with the lives of an older, well-to-do generation of aristocratic war veterans, a sense of injustice is established as a subtext to the film’s ‘rites du passage’ overtone.
As older brother Charlie, Jack O’Connell’s performance is wonderfully British and acutely in tune with the vernacular of a early 20th century teenage boy. He plays the strong, self-assure, nurturing and loving brother with genuine effect and subtlety, as his character serves as both role model and antagonist to younger sibling, Tommo, played by George MacKay, who also gives a sterling performance, providing an effective compliment and contrast to O’Connell’s Charlie. Providing the love dilemma for the two brothers, and much more than that, is an elegant and fine performance from rising talent, Alexandra Roach, who plays the endearing tom-boy, Molly Monks.
It’s obvious what O’Connor was trying to achieve and through the film’s simplicity, fine performances and well-written screenplay, Private Peaceful is a delicate and warm portrayal of love for family, for friends, and for one’s country, without the usual façade of over-exuberant jingoism.