Private Peaceful is about two brothers who grow up in Devon, England and fall in love with the same girl in their youth. Love is one of the main conflicts within the movie, not the war itself. Though we do see scenes from the war, the movie is much more focused on wars of the heart. Love is one of these but also within the coming of age realm we see this constant question of “where do I belong” among the brothers. This idea of the war being a backdrop to life and its struggles made the war seem almost less important. This can happen when the plot is too heavily focused on back home rather than the front. However, maybe that decision was intentional to indicate the sharp division of the two different lives. A man lying in his own bed, is not the same person as a solider lying on his back in the trench.
The movie starts with a flash forward of the younger brother Tommo Peaceful being held in a prison cell after a court marshal hearing. That being the opening scene was a poor choice. We do not get much explanation to why we are taken to this moment in time until the very end. The imagery quickly shifts to the brothers in their youth. This part of the movie develops and explains how both brothers fell in love with Molly Monks, the former groundskeeper’s daughter.
The beginning of the movie is rather fast paced to get to the war itself. Once the war enters the film slows down a bit and the events that unfold aren’t so quick. The movie is based off of a book of the same title so the pace of the movie in some of the earlier scenes could be attributed to squeezing in a lot of backstory into a short amount of time. The development of the plot could have flowed smoother without the foreshadowing of the end of the movie or the short cuts of the brothers as boys. These scenes held no real significance except to explain the love triangle that was set up and the death of Mr. Peaceful, their father, which becomes a role Charlie takes on in some ways at the front.
Roles and the adoption of them are what adds tension to this movie. A man has many roles given to him throughout his life, some being father, brother, and in this movie we get the addition of soldier, and lover. The perspective of a character can shift when assuming these positions not only in life but especially in battle. The conflict comes when roles contradict each other. We see this the most in Charlie, the older brother of Tommo who has more at stake when he becomes a father in the movie. Since the movie has no narrator we really do not get to know the characters motivations. Without Tommo or possibly a 3rd person omniscient voice to tell us what the brothers are thinking or feeling, we have to rely on their physical reactions or speech. This is unfortunate because the dialogue did not always match the scene. The film zoomed in on particular details of the boys lives such as their childhood, giving us poems or nursery rhymes without any real explanation as to why this was being done. Such concepts might have been possibly expanded on further in the book but did not transition to the screen.
The idea of conflicting roles does take away from the pain felt in war. However, we have some great examples intermingled of how war and roles interact. The hierarchy of the war displays this. With the introduction of the character Sergeant Hanley, we see how soldiers are made to follow orders, without question, and also what happens if these orders are disobeyed. We are meant to dislike Hanley as he is controlling and gives out unnecessary punishments. However, this might be because he is jealous of Charlie who saves his life and becomes the real leader in charge of this particular section of soldiers, most of whom Charlie knows from back home.
The hierarchy of the front can be compared to the hierarchy at home. This furthers the idea that roles can be found in abundance within ones own life and that the ever-burning question of “where do I fit in” doesn’t merely go away by changing locations.
On a societal level, we notice that the Peaceful brothers are within the lower class economically speaking. They live in a cottage owned by the Colonel. The casting for this character was fitting. The Colonel is played by the late Richard Griffiths, known for being Uncle Vernon in the Harry Potter films. The Colonel, a man of wealth and status is unique in allowing us to see how privilege is shown by England the country as well. The Colonel views his country as politically superior, as he proclaims “God bless the Empire” and praises Great Britain for taming the “natives”. Further in the movie though he bashes those who have left to fight while drunk in a bar, which upsets Charlie Peaceful and is one of the determining factors in why he returns to the front line after he sustains a blighty wound.
The war creates division not only in the lives of men but women as well. The best example of this is how an old lady shames Tommo on the street when he doesn’t join right away. Similarly, Molly, the girl he fell in love with as a kid, says “volunteers are brave”. His mother disagrees, and is opposed to the fighting. She says “there wouldn’t be a war if woman had their say”.
The dichotomies witnessed in this movie I thought was an intriguing take on how one chooses his own fate out of the life that is chosen for him. Tommo’s dad who dies saving him represents this struggle of protector when it is inconvenient, which is where Tommo’s guilt pressures him to enlist along with feeling unsure of himself at home. In addition, the metamorphosis from boy to soldier better explains why there is so much time in the movie dedicated to showing us youth, and back home rather than the front. Home is where the soldier is made, and the front is where he becomes lost. That is why the return home is so hard for soldiers to accept, they can not be re-found once they are born into killers.
The killings of the soldiers was disturbing and it was tragic but the speaking of English by the German soldier in the trench interrupted the violent moment, this happened again when a French bar-keep shouts “Go to hell”. Which is a shame because in the trench scene the German says “I do not kill boys” referring to Tommo’s youth (he lied about his age to enlist) but then the German himself is killed by Tommo’s squadron. Within that group, they themselves get picked off one by one. Through these killings of both body and heart we see how fraternity becomes all the more important, in a movie about family and friendship.
I pledge…Claire Dwyer
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