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Michael Morpurgo

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‘Private Peaceful’, by War Horse author Morpurgo, begins filming in Suffolk

The tragic (and, many say, unjust) summary executions of some 300 British soldiers during WW1 are evoked in Michael Morpurgo’s novel, now coming to the movies.

Michael Morpurgo, Private PeacefulWar Horse author Michael Morpurgo’s other novel of World War One, Private Peaceful, is on its way to the big screen. This news should delight Morpurgo fans, coming mere months before Steven Spielberg’s highly anticipated adaptation of War Horse hits cinemas world-wide.

Principal photography on Private Peaceful began the last week of August in the village of Woolpit, in Suffolk, England.

Morpurgo is an executive producer on the project.

Set in the fields of rural Devon from 1908 and in the front line trenches of Flanders during the First World War, Private Peaceful is a classic rite of passage story about two brothers, Tommo and Charlie Peaceful. It chronicles the exuberance and pain of their teenage love for the same girl, and the pressures of their feudal family life.

When war breaks out, the boys enlist and go to the front lines of Flanders. There, they learn more than they ever wanted to know about horrors and folly of war, the cruelty of command, and the ultimate price of courage and cowardice.

Battlefield injustice: the inspration for Private Peaceful

After writing War Horse, his first book about the World War One, Morpurgo visited Ypres in Belgium, where he learned of the 300 British soldiers executed during the war for cowardice or desertion – two for simply falling asleep at their posts.

“I read transcripts of their trials, and saw how unjust it had been” says Morpurgo. “I visited their graves and knew I had to tell this story.”

The all-British cast of Private Peaceful includes George MacKay (The Boys are Back, Birdsong), Jack O’Connell (Eden Lake, Harry Brown, Skins), Richard Griffiths (Harry Potter, The History Boys, Withnail and I), Alexandra Roach (The Iron Lady), Frances De La Tour (Alice in Wonderland, The History Boys, The Book of Eli).

Private Peaceful is produced by Guy de Beaujeu and Simon Reade for Fluidity Films in association with Poonamallee Productions. Its being developed in association with Peppermint Pictures. UK distributors are Exile Media.

Former Dire Straits guitarist Mark Knopfler will compose the score for the film. Knopfler has scored a number of films, including Local Hero, Wag The Dog and The Princess Bride.

2003 review of Private Peaceful by the Guardian

The horse that carried Spielberg to the First World War

The director had no interest in WW1… until he met an unforgettable horse named Joey.

Albert (Jeremy Irvine) and his beloved farm horse Joey, in Dreamworks' forthcoming War Horse

Albert (Jeremy Irvine) and his beloved farm horse Joey, in Dreamworks' forthcoming War Horse

I confess to being a bit of a sucker for movies about horses. I watched Seabiscuit twice, and fell in love with the story of Hidalgo. Something about that scrappy, come-from-behind spirit of these amazing creatures that just gets you right there every time. And now, here comes a horse movie that, judging from the trailer, is going to lasso hearts everywhere and ride off with them like… well… like a pack of horse thieves.

This Christmas, Steven Spielberg’s Dreamworks Pictures will release War Horse, described as “an epic adventure for audiences of all ages, and an unforgettable odyssey of friendship, discovery and courage.” Spielberg himself directed this epic story of a young boy named Albert and his beloved farm horse Joey. At the outbreak of WWI, Joey is sold to the British cavalry by Albert’s father and dispatched to the front lines. From there, Joey begins an extraordinary journey, fraught with dangers and obstacles. Albert, unable to forget his friend, leaves home for the battlefields of France to find his horse and bring him home.

The film is based on a 1982 children’s novel by Michael Morpurgo, whose inspiration for the book came from several sources around Devon, where he lives. One old soldier had been “involved with ‘orses” in the day. An old cavalry veteran of the war told Morpurgo how he had confided all his hopes and fears to his horse. Another eyewitness related how the army came to the village to buy horses for the cavalry and for pulling such equipment of war as artillery and ambulances. Researching deeper, Morpurgo learned the tragic facts of how over 10 million horses died in the war on all sides, some 940,000 of them British.

Morpurgo tells of receiving inspiration, as well, from a young boy who had come to his Nethercott farm for city children. Nervous and withdrawn, the child had spoken to no one for two years. One night, Morpurgo discovered the child in the stable, talking “19 to the dozen” to Morpurgo’s horse Hebe about his day on the farm. Morpurgo realized that the horse was listening and, in its own way, understanding the child.

Morpurgo’s War Horse was a phenomenal success and went on to be adapted into a triumphant, international theatrical hit – which is where Steven Spielberg first encountered it with a passionate reaction.

“I thought the story was absolutely fascinating, and I was simply transported,” the director recalls.  “It was a very honest story, I saw it as a movie for families, the journey of a boy and a horse who were once so close, whose destinies drive them far apart. “To me, this is a story about belief, hope and tenacity – the tenacity of a boy and a horse driven by devotion.” he says.

Though Spielberg has directed or produced numerous films and television programs set in the Second World War, including Saving Private Ryan, Flags of Our Fathers, Letters from Iwo Jima, and Band of Brothers, he admitted in a recent interview with Vanity Fair that, prior to learning about the War Horse book and play, “I had never been that interested in World War One”.

War Horse opens in the US on 28 December, 2011, and in the UK on 13 January, 2012. Produced by Steven Spielberg and Kathleen Kennedy, War Horse stars Emily Watson, David Thewlis, Peter Mullan, Niels Arestrup, Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irvine, Benedict Cumberbatch and Toby Kebbell. Lee Hall and Richard Curtis penned the screenplay based on the book by Michael Morpurgo and the recent stage play by Nick Stafford, produced by the National Theatre of Great Britain and directed by Tom Morris and Marianne Elliot.

Official movie site for War Horse

All text Copyright ©2011 Rick Koobs

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