Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Steven Spielberg
Stars: Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson, Peter Mullan, David Thewlis, Eddie Marsan, Benedict Cumberbatch, Neils Arestrup, David Kross, Ian Carmichael, Tom Hiddleston, Toby Kebbell, David Dencik, Geoff Bell, Gerard McSorley.
Steven Spielberg has two films on release this Boxing Day, and it is hard to recall the last time a filmmaker of his calibre had two films released concurrently. Production on the animated The Adventures Of Tintin in 2009, but during the lengthy post production phase Spielberg also shot War Horse in England.
The film is adapted from Nick Stafford’s successful stage play that ran at London’s National Theatre for four years, and writers Richard Curtis (Four Weddings And A Funeral, etc) and Lee Hall have beautifully opened it up from its theatrical origins.
The film tells the story of Joey, a magnificent and strong thoroughbred horse that has been raised by farm boy Albert (newcomer Jeremy Irvine). To save the family farm from going broke though Albert’s father reluctantly sells the horse to the military at the outbreak of WWI. Joey is shipped off to Europe where he passes through several owners during the course of the war. There is the heroic cavalry officer (Benedict Cumberbatch), a young German deserter, a kindly French grandfather (Niels Arestrup), and a German artillery officer.
The film superbly captures the horrors and carnage of the war in the trenches and the killing fields of France and Belgium. Spielberg is a very visceral filmmaker when it comes to depicting the horror of war – consider the bravura opening sequence of Saving Private Ryan – and here he again shows us the grim reality of war. While we watch the slaughter though we also feel sympathy for the horses, which are used to charge into murderous machine gun fire or pull heavy cannons through steep muddy hills. There are some distressing scenes involving the treatment of the horses, which may upset some viewers.
Spielberg is a classical filmmaker, and there are numerous visual references to other great films throughout, like All Quiet On The Western Front. The opening sweeping shots of luscious green farm lands and fields, courtesy of veteran cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, is reminiscent of How Green Was My Valley, while the final shot, lit by an orange sunset, recalls Gone With The Wind.
Spielberg has assembled a great cast, including Emily Watson, Peter Mullan, David Thewlis and Eddie Marsan to flesh out the characters.
You would have to be made of stone not to be moved in some way by War Horse.