The filmmakers tell this World War I story beautifully, but they never quite bring it to life as a proper movie. By taking a gently simplistic approach, it never feels like anything new as it deals with the usual topics of battlefield camaraderie, lost innocence and families torn apart by war.
It's set in early 1900s rural Devon, as the Peaceful family's idyllic life comes to an abrupt end when Dad dies. Now Hazel (Peake) and her three sons, Tommo, Charlie and simple-minded Joe (MacKay, O'Connell and Summercorn), must struggle to find enough work to survive. And when the war breaks out, Tommo lies about his age to go off to fight, partly because the girl he loves, Molly (Roach), turns out to be in love with Charlie. So out of guilt, Charlie joins him in the trenches. Which makes both Molly and Hazel worry if either of them will return home.
Based on the novel by Michael Morpurgo (War Horse), the film is packed with serious themes that contrast life on a Devon farm with the horrors of battle. The story is framed with scenes of Tommo in a military prison cell, and we have to wait until the end to find out what that's all about, which kind of waters down the impact of the harrowing scenes that come next. This is probably because everything that happens in the meantime reiterates the fact that fate goes where it will, and both good and bad people die in wartime.
All of the actors give wonderfully emotional performances, adding emotion and spark when things start feeling mopey, with particularly strong turns from MacKay and O'Connell and extra spice from Griffiths and de la Tour in mischievous cameos. But with such a straightforward approach, it all feels like a rather average TV production, never grappling with the more complex aspects of the story or characters. There are moments of raw realism along the way, but the sudden ending leaves us feeling oddly unmoved.
Run time: 102 mins
In Theaters: Friday 12th October 2012
Distributed by: BBC Worldwide
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 64%
Fresh: 16 Rotten: 9
IMDB: 6.2 / 10
Director: Pat O'Connor
Producer: Simon Reade, Guy de Beaujeu
Screenwriter: Simon Reade
Writer-director Christopher McQuarrie brings a dark and gritty tone to this larger-than-life franchise. Along with...
With a spectacular setting and two solid actors on-screen, this thriller builds enough solid suspense...
Those bright sparks at Pixar have done it again, taking a fiercely original approach to...
Slick direction and meaty performances may be enough for some viewers, but this boxing drama's...
Loose and impressionistic, this beautifully shot film traces the career of a DJ who pioneered...
Without a single moment of originality, this found-footage horror movie really deserves to be the...
An intriguing premise keeps the audience gripped for about 20 minutes before the movie runs...