This film adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s novel by the same name may be better critiqued by someone who has read the book and can compare the two. I have not, but having looked up the book and found it to have been classified as being appropriate for ages 8 to 12 (what used to be lumped into the broad classification of “Juvenile Fiction,” but these days could perhaps be shoehorned into “Middle Grade”), I can only surmise that certain liberties may have been taken with the plot to make the story more appealing to an adult audience that expects “adult themes” in its entertainment.
It stretches credulity that a career gamekeeper and forester would have neglected to teach his children never to approach during a shoot, because of the risk of their being mistakenly shot, and the possibility of their scaring away the game; nor to approach him when he was at work felling trees, or failing that, where not to stand when a tree was being felled: a forester of my acquaintance always knew exactly where any tree he chopped down would fall.
The battle scenes leave a little to be desired: the pyrotechnics are not as powerful as in other war films, and the cinematography not as skillful. There is a fine moment of irony in the accusation of “cowardice in the face of the enemy,” when “the enemy” becomes identified with someone not normally described by that term.
The continual jumping back and forth between flashback time periods gets a little wearing on the patience. The accents are sometimes difficult for this North American to decipher. At the end of the movie, a sudden caginess in the dialogue makes the viewer suspect that a plot twist is about to be perpetrated that makes the opening scene in the prison begin to look like a red herring: after the film was over, I replayed the last two segments to make sure that what I thought I’d missed hearing really wasn’t there.
The film does function as an interesting perspective on the primitive nature of the physical and social conditions of life only a hundred years ago, and the hazards appertaining thereto.