Michael Morpurgo’s young adult novels appeal well beyond the books’ target demographics. The stage and film adaptations of War Horse continue to draw audiences of all ages, and this one-man adaptation of Private Peaceful resonates with adults as well as teenagers.
Actor Andy Daniel excels in charting the coming of age of World War I soldier Tommo, who we first see as a young lad starting school in pre-war Devon. Daniel convinces as a little boy, a cynical, fragile soldier and everything in between. His vulnerability as both an adult and a child are compelling and watchable, and his love for his family warms the heart.
Simon Reade’s adaptation lacks tonal variety, however. Running at over an hour, it starts to feel too long about half way through. The childhood exposition, while sweet and charming, is also too lengthy and lacks momentum. The power of the story lies in Tommo’s experiences at boot camp and in the trenches rather than the school yard or at home in the fields of rural England. Though the descriptions of both locations are vivid and full, and their juxtaposition powerful, the story is still too slow to develop.
Reade faithfully sticks to Morpurgo’s story and the language has moments where it sings, but boiling it down to the rhythms and experiences of one person flattens it. The message of this story, though, that war erases our humanity and understanding of others, is certainly prescient.