The second Michael Morpurgo adaptation of the year, after War Horse, is a more conventional story of familial love and loss that moves from Devon pastures to the fields of Flanders. Young Tommo Peaceful falls for local lass Molly, only to find his older and more charismatic brother Charlie also succumbing to her charms.
The rivalry continues as the brothers sign up in 1914 and run foul of a sadistic sergeant major (John Lynch) amid the useless slaughter of the trenches.
MacKay and Jack O'Connell give affecting performances, though the film is sluggish in its early stages and cartoonish about the class struggle (Richard Griffiths plays a jingoistic lord of the manor).
The film's opening scene – one Pte Peaceful awaits the firing squad at dawn – is manipulated so as to make us wonder who's wearing the blindfold, a bit of trickery that doesn't compensate for the unsurprising nature of what follows.