Benjamin Britten: Peace and Conflict (2013) ***

May 20th, 2013
Author: Meredith Taylor

Director: Tony Britten
Script: Tony Britten
Producers: Tony Britten, Katja Mordaunt, Anwen Rees-Myers
Cast: Alex Lawther, Mykola Allen, Bradley Hall, John Hurt, Christopher Theobald

UK                                    150mins       Docudrama

Director Tony Britten (no relation to Benjamin) has had an interesting and varied life; known more for his composition than his directing, even conducting the music for ‘Robocop’. Safe to say then, that he is a fan of Benjamin Britten, still the most performed British composer worldwide, celebrated for operas ‘Peter Grimes’, ‘Billy Budd’ and ‘The Turn Of The Screw’ and of course, his War Requiem.

Born in Lowestoft, 1913, Peace and Conflict marks the centenary of Britten’s birth and takes us from his formative years at Norfolk’s liberal Gresham School, where he rubbed shoulders with the likes of defector, Donald Maclean and one of the founder members of the CND, Roger Simon, through to his trip to Belsen shortly after the war, the US and his final years in Aldeburgh, Suffolk.

The film charts his early years, pinpointing some of the heaviest influences on his young life, not least of which being the First World War. One hundred boys from Gresham’s lost their lives in that conflict which had a profound effect on the composer, who abhorred violence of any kind and became a Pacifist and Conscientious Objector for life.

Indeed, Gresham’s banned corporal punishment and became the first public school in the country to form a branch of the League of Nations Union, set up to foster peace and prevent future conflict.

Although a strong and emotive topic, the film is flawed, with the dramatised segments not sitting particularly well with the documented parts. Lawther though, as the young Britten, is a discovery and will undoubtedly go on to bigger and better things. John Hurt provides the narration, with typical aplomb; he is as much a dear and recognisable part of the fabric of Britain, as Sir David Attenborough or, of course, Benjamin Britten. But the overriding star of the show was always going to be the music and Tony Britten has squeezed as much as was humanly possible into the running time.

Although not always thoroughly engaging, it’s still fitting that a coherent record be made of a man who not only profoundly affected, but truly represented a generation. He wrote music for the people and was proud to do so and Peace and Conflict gives a little insight into the single-minded man behind it. AT

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