A Separate Peace (TV Movie 2004) Poster

(2004 TV Movie)

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Great casting, but fails to tell Knowles' story.
RandySavage13 September 2004
"A Separate Peace" is one of my favorite books. An absolutely horrible film version was made of it in 1974, so I knew Showtime's updated version was virtually guaranteed to be an improvement. An improvement it is... but it could - and should - have been much better.

First the Good: Finny has got to be one of the hardest parts out there to cast. The part calls for natural athleticism and tremendous charisma – a truly rare combination (especially in actors). Toby Moore was inspired casting. I have no idea who he is or where he came from. He had an almost impossible task, and he nailed it. The actors who played Gene and Brinker also performed admirably. If it had a script that stuck to the actual Knowles' story, this film might have been something very special.

Now to the Bad: Knowles' story is much more than a story about adolescent friendship and betrayal. It is about how a person can only find peace within himself when he is forced to face his own darkness. Finny, who knows only love and forgiveness, seems to be the only exception to this rule – and because of that, he is destroyed by his best friend. By the end, Gene makes peace with Finny and finally finds peace within. The writer and director missed much of these key elements. Important scenes are brought to life beautifully, but we never really get inside Gene's head, so we can't understand how or why he achieves a 'separate peace.'

The writers also decided to omit the other key theme of the book: Finny as a representation of peace in world at war. While Finny talks like he was rearing to go to war, he in fact is unable to do so - because of his leg, but also because it is not possible for him to hate (as Gene describes in the final 'you'd be terrible in a war, Finny!' dialogue). Alas, none of it makes it into the film.

All in all, it was great to see a terrific performance by Moore as Finny, as well as some great scenes from the book brought to life (The Headmaster's Tea, The Winter Olympics, The Trial). However, I will still have to wait for a film to be made that is true to the spirit of this American classic.
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Worse than awful
BoogerPudding3 March 2005
First I must confess that A Separate Peace is my favorite book. So of course, I have some bias against any attempt at adapting it for a feature film or television movie. But as I began to watch this film, I was more than willing to give it the benefit of the doubt. The original version from the early 1970s, though shot at Phillips Exeter Academy where the book's author attended school, and though it stayed as faithful as it could to the book, lacked any real depth of feeling and failed to capture the essence of the characters. The original seemed to simply go through the motions. Reading the trivia about the movie, you discover that it was cast mostly with non-actors. Thus, the original has an amateurish feel to it and it ultimately fails.

This new version, though I will grant that it captures the look of the period better than the original, seems to have thrown the book out all together. Scenes are rearranged, characters imposed where they don't belong, characters created that were not in the book, and no attempt was made to delve into the deeper conflicts that make the book so compelling. And the cardinal sin of all: the tree is not treated as the vital, almost central character it is in the book. This is an inexcusable oversight on the part of the film makers. How could they downplay the role of the tree? Why was it not introduced immediately? Why the Dead Poet-esque beginning? And what in God's name was up with Gene's accent? This film is, to be blunt, garbage. A Separate Peace should not be a difficult book to adapt for the stage or screen. John Knowles wrote it in a perfectly fine, linear style. The film makers should have trusted the story as it was already written; make changes, sure; embellish here and there, sure; take some mild dramatic license, sure. But destroy one of the pearls of American literature in the process? What were they thinking? In their corruption of the story line, they cut any possibility of suspense or drama. The whole movie falls flat and fails miserably.

If you are a high school or college student assigned to read this book and you are thinking of skimping and just watching the movie...don't even think about it. This film will be of no help to you.

Alas, we shall have to wait even longer before a version of this story comes to the screen that truly does it justice.
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Leonard Maltin should have rated this one BOMB, not the 72 version
fordraff26 June 2005
Warning: Spoilers
This is not a good film. The script is a loose adaptation of the novel with much dialogue that is too direct in stating themes and purposes; nothing is left to implication. This might make it useful for showing in high school classrooms but makes it a tedious business for intelligent viewers.

Because there is no framework here of older Gene returning to Devon, a title announces that it is February 1943. And to grab viewers' attention, the film begins with a scene of black robed and hooded boys bursting into Finny and Gene's room, with Brinker telling his cohorts to haul out Finny and Gene. Then another title tells us we're flashing back to "Seven Months Earlier." Gene is arriving for the first time at Devon from his home in the South.

In a too-explicit expository voice-over, Gene makes it clear that he's not one of the wealthy boys whose families have attended Devon for generations but just an average guy from a middle-class background. Nevertheless, he is glad to have this opportunity to be a student at the school.

The boys are immediately plunged into a blitzball game without explanation as to what this is, and then they are running off to jump from the tree at the edge of the river. This is all too quick. The film needs to introduce the characters, build up the characters and their relationships to each other, and then move into the plot events. Because this isn't done here, the characters remain two dimensional, not people I could become involved with and care about. Thus, the film can register no impact; it didn't draw me in.

Toby Moore is totally miscast as Finny. He towers over the other boys, has a 21st century gym-buffed body, and doesn't project a whiff of charisma. He was 26 when the film was shot and is too old for the part. Finny comes across here as a damned pest who is constantly keeping Gene from studying. One wonders why Gene doesn't simply tell Finny to f*** off. For "A Separate Peace" to work, Finny must have charisma, magnetism, innocence, a quality that makes him irresistible to others, even when he's cajoling them to do something they don't want to. If one doesn't warm to Finny, there is no film.

J. Carton plays Gene, who was directed to give the role a heavy Southern accent, which comes and goes throughout the film. When it's present, it's an annoyance. Other than that, Gene is simply a generic preppy here.

Brinker has had all his rough edges smoothed to become a vanilla blah. And Leper is now just an odd student whom the others treat as if he were the dorm mascot. In one horrendous scene, Leper actually impersonates Hitler and comes along with Brinker into Finny and Gene's room to do a little dance. And Quackenbush has simply disappeared altogether.

The film has a bad score which uses no period music that was so necessary to building up atmosphere in the '72 version. Instead, at one point, we get "Hold that Tiger," which must go back to the 20s at least.

The very important scene between Gene and Finny at the beach is treated inconsequently. The dialogue has been changed from the novel so that Finny says quickly to Gene that it's important to be at the beach "with your best buddy." Finny doesn't add, "Which is what you are." And there's no indication that Gene wants to reply to Finny in kind. The very core of the novel is tossed aside here.

When Gene and Finny climb the tree for the fateful jump, Gene is photographed to look like a devil glowering from under his heavy brows at Finny. And here there is no ambiguity about Gene's jouncing the limb; we see him do it. And since I'd not been drawn into Gene's character any more than I'd been drawn into Finny's, I couldn't care much for what Gene did or what happened to Finny.

When Gene goes to see Finny in the hospital after the fall, Finny is far too hale and healthy, not like someone who's just had a serious accident and had his leg set and put into a cast.

There is a scene here where the students go apple picking in nearby orchards because the usual harvesters are off at war. In this scene, the farmer who owns the orchard tells the boys that his son was killed in the war and that he recently buried him in the orchard under his favorite apple tree. He gives his son's army cap to Leper. This scene makes explicit the implications that are in the much finer scene of the '72 version where the boys are shoveling snow off the railroad tracks and face the young soldiers in the train, who are a mirror for their future.

The best moment in this dismal remake occurs when Gene spots Leper on campus and follows him to his makeshift hideout in the woods. In this scene, Danny Swerdlow as Leper actually has some decent dialogue and a situation to act out, and he does a fine job of it. It was the only scene in the film to register some feeling and begin to draw me in.

The film trickles off after Finny's death. Gene is enlisting, and Brinker, if you can believe this, is going off into the woods wearing Leper's old cap hoping to find the beaver damn that Leper was earlier looking for in the winter. Gene has a voice-over at the end that mouths platitudes like, "Just be yourself; just go on." My God! Is that the best this film can offer? This pallid film version reflects attenuation of the book and isn't going to build enthusiasm for the book or reveal what makes the novel such a fine one.
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A True Disappointment
ender328815 December 2006
I saw this DVD on sale and bought it without a second thought, despite not even having known it was out since this is one of my favorite books of all time. As soon as I got home I raced to watch it only to find myself utterly disappointed. While it is true that this film is somewhat based on the book, the similarities end there. The characters are changed (ie Finny seems more a pompous jerk than anything else whereas Gene seems to be somewhat of a hillbilly), scenes are misplaced or altogether changed (ie. Lepper), many characters are missing and famous lines/thought are missing. The movie does attempt to portray some feeling that the previous one lacked but it is done in a lackluster way that makes for a flat boring movie. It is the depth of character and feeling that makes the book such a classic and this movie takes those things and utterly destroys them in its rewriting.
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Great move though book is better
cyke9317 September 2004
Having read the book 2x in school, I remember the story fondly. Seeing it enacted on screen gave me flashbacks and although i did not remember everything, i remembered enough. Since this is a dramatic movie, it's success depends on the viewers' emotions. I already knew the ending but i still felt a great sense of tragedy and sadness. It made me go look for my book and i ended up buying a new copy and reading it in one sitting. The book of course gives a much deeper, broader picture.

Things they coudld've done better: Reading the book, i was enthralled at its depth and complexity. the movie could've used more of that. since gene narrated the book, it is of course different on screen. and probably the biggest issue would be the war/ peace theme. the movie is called a separate peace, but what does that mean? these are 16-17 y/o boys who are enjoying their last year of "Freedom" before getting sent to war. The war hung over them like a dark cloud, but for Gene and Phinny, they managed to create their own world of peace with the two of them in it, and of course gene's fight with himself and the codependency of the two. in the book, we find gene is successful in life, at least financially, but it is never clear if he really defeated his inner demons, but it is clear that phinny i still a big part of his life. having read the book, i knew all of this and on screen i felt it but i know if i hadn't i would probably not get it.


the actors for all the major character, esp gene and phineas did a great job. the scenes with the two of them were magnetic and you could feel the friendship and the tension (of gene in the beginning of the movie) between them. despite the things they left out and didn't touch upon to deeply was, they managed to nail the friendship between the two. To see it finally resolved between them only for "it" (the ending of the movie, i do not want to spoil) to happen, i felt very emotion and felt the loss as if it were my own and because of that i recommend the movie

but i highly suggest getting the book first then watching. i hope this helps some
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More like a BBC
mcalester6627 July 2013
Warning: Spoilers
I bought this movie with very low hopes, seeing that most of the IMDb reviews called it trash. WHAT IS UP WITH THAT? I thought it was a very good adaptation. Here are my thoughts:

The High Points: Overall, the film was presented in as normal a way as possible, without big screen stars and fancy CGI to pretty it up. It struck me more like a BBC film, which I prefer. I felt that the four friends were good, especially Leper, who captured the lovable innocence that I felt there was in the character. Some key points were missing, like Gene taking off the layers of clothing when Finny returns, and the encounter with Quackenbush, but still, the acting was excellent. I also liked the soundtrack, everything from moody piano to "Hold that Tiger." Pity the soundtrack isn't released on CD.

The Low Points: The missing points which I mentioned earlier, plus the fact that Gene's narrations only occur at the beginning and the end. I think Gene should have narrated throughout, to convey his thoughts about Finny. When I watched the movie with my family, my grandmother was confused as to why Gene knocked Finny out of the tree. My mom, grandpa, and I had read the book, so we understood, but if you haven't read the book, you wouldn't understand. The other big change which I didn't like was Gene's confrontation with Leper, which rather than taking place at his house, occurs in a little survival hut built by the insane Leper in the woods. Leper is very straightforward there about his feelings which showed the actor's talent, but not so much the Leper from the book.

If you get this movie, do not judge it by the other reviews. See it for yourself. You may be pleasantly surprised as I was.

9/10 for some key points missing.
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The 1972 version was a true preppy classic 2004 was not
Malcolm McKay8 December 2004
John Knowles modern masterpiece, A Separate Peace, are one of many subtle, and subtly is the watch word, themes of love, hate, jealously, denial and regret. The 1972 version does attempt to address this style and what the book is - A love story with war looming in the background.

The 2004 version does not use subtly at all but overtness in the portrayal of the story. What is staring you in the face when you read the novel - is a love story, and yes maybe it is arguable, a gay love story. In the novel and 1972 film version there are sexual undertones everywhere in the writings and dialog.In the 2004 Showtime film version these tensions were omitted and the actors were in there late twenties playing teenagers which caused for mature acting taking away from any tenderness or hesitation of innocence in youth.

I did not like this remake for more reasons. The hair that broke the camels' back was that Phineas was given a surname on the letters he received from the draft boards! Finny is a character that does not have nor needs a last name. John Knowles did that intentionally.

Though I accept the 1972 version the acting was at times a little amateurish, so what, it attempted to be sincere to the novel by shooting on location at Phillips Exeter Academy that The Devon Acedemy was based on; which also the writer John Knowles attended as a student.

The directors and producers took all teenage Exeter students, with exception of Parker Stevenson whom attended The Brooks School, to play in a Paramount Film! Class act by preppies compared to this Canadian College shot, played with adult actors, politically correct, platonic version. No - Veto on this sham try again. The 1972 film version with John Heyl and Parker Stevenson was the real deal for A Separate Peace on the screen. The Showtime 2004 film made for cable version was not.
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Harriet Deltubbo30 August 2014
This film proves that a small story can be much more meaningful than a large one. The setup is simple: Strong friendships between students slowly turns into bitter rivalry with fatal consequences. I really like this type of film, as it reminds me of French movies where it's more about the characters and their environment. My only problem with the film was the supporting cast. From an artistic standpoint, there were some plot elements and character developments I didn't think were totally needed. They do however drive the story, which seemed to be their purpose, so I can accept them at the end of the day. A final rating of 7/10.
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Parallel Branches
tedg25 May 2009
Some books seem natural for high school study. They need to be simple to read, but contain enough ambiguity and analogy to show students that real literature is more than a plot. If the book is set in high school, so much the better. I think the existence of this market niche is why this book has survived. There can be no other reason.

I mention the ambiguity, because that is why the book works; you never really know for sure what happened on that tree.

Alas, but TeeVee movies do not like ambiguity because they find their own market niche. So the only potentially valuable bit from the book is scrubbed out.


It did resonate with me. Its an odd thing when you encounter a story that has accidental settings and events that mirror important events in your life. I went to an elite boarding school, a military school in fact. The dynamics among boys in such an environment can have no analog anywhere else in the world. There were a characters like these (in the movie). There was at the time an expectation that many of us would go to the then current war in Viet Nam. There was anxious enthusiasm about roles that could in our imagination be achieved and a black market for swapping dreams of which of these roles were claimed first.

All this you see on the screen is true.

Ted's Evaluation -- 1 of 3: You can find something better to do with this part of your life.
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What is Friendship?
larapha16 December 2016
After watching the film, a bitter felling comes from what is friendship, after all. Regardless the merits of the book, which I didn't read, one comes to the real hatred that can develops from one side of a friendship otherwise quite strong, coming in our terms to a bro bond, where sex isn't involved, but a real link can be developed between friends. At least, from one side of the fellows. The behavior of one of the 'friends' remains a mystery if we don't go to Freudian explanations of love and death. The performance of principals is mediocre, according to a TV movie. We can't see inner motivations that make Finny (Toby Moore) behaves as he does, and Gene(J Burtons) is perhaps a little too innocent is his movements. As a hole, a watchable film. But don't wait for a masterpiece.
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