Release Date: 13th January 2012
Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson, Tom Hiddleston, Benedict Cumberbatch, David Thewlis.
Running Time: 143mins
Only one director could take an already internationally recognised story and bring something new to the proceedings. War Horse is the fictional work of Michael Morpurgo, which was then adapted for the stage of London’s West End and now Steven Spielberg has got his masterful hands on it, filmed it in Devon and has created his most family friendly to date. It’s pretty spectacular.
The film follows a horse, called Joey (odd that) and shows us various episodes and events of WW I though his eyes and his magnificent journey from a small working farm in Devon that takes him all over the world. A thoroughbred bought at auction by a drunken fool who is desperate (Peter Mullan), his teenage lad Albert (the magnificent Jeremy Irvine) takes a shine to Joey and becomes his best friend, trains him and eventually when the war comes has to say a tearful goodbye.
Joey’s next journey begins when the army ride in and buy Joey from Albert’s family – following that Joey’s adventures see him meet Captain Nichols (Tom Hiddleston) who takes Joey into danger for the first time and to the front lines, a young and sickly girl, Emilie takes charge of him for a short period and a wonderful and touching sequence of sincerity sees Joey caught in No Man’s Land, between the Germans and the English as both sides join together to aid him.
Each mini-adventure adds more to the story, giving a full picture of WW I, the hardships faced, the people, ideas and hopes that were lost and the struggles that were overcome. Throughout the film Spielberg never looses control of his characters, the animal and the human, having a film where his leading man is a horse is no easy feat to accomplish yet he does it with style, conviction and terrific imagination.
Each and every member of the cast takes their part near to perfectly, newcomer Jeremy Irvine has never acted in a film before and now the offers will be flooding in as he’s quite something to behold. Benedict Cumberbatch as an army Major, Eddie Marsan, Emily Watson as a troubled wife and Niels Arestrup as a doting Grandfather and Toby Kebbell as a brave Geordie corporal – all take their smaller roles brilliantly and each one makes their limited screen-time memorable.
Although it’s epic on scale and the performances are worthy of the praise there are sadly some criticisms still to be made, the score from Spielberg’s long-term collaborative partner, John Williams is at times too much and takes over from the actual action and narrative. The film itself has several sickly sweet moments that some will deem corny but they’re countered by scenes of hardship as Joey survives throughout the war.
Some will no doubt dismiss is as a boy and his horse saga but they’d simply not be doing justice to the levels of passion that this film has. This is the greatest of all equine entertainment, it even betters such classics as National Velvet and The Black Stallion. It’s poignant, full of heart and beautifully shot, the landscapes, the skies and the war scenes echo those that he gave us in Saving Private Ryan, just without as much blood.
War Horse is masterpiece, it’s not the best Spielberg film ever made, but it’s a labour of love and deserves appreciation. The story is timeless and rather relevant and you need to see it if only to see a film that doesn’t follow the conventional three acts, but is told as if it is a mini series and successfully so.