Distributed by Touchstone Pictures
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
When I first heard about the theatrical adaptation of the children’s novel by Michael Morpurgo, War Horse, I was intrigued. I was amazed at the way they brought the horses to life on stage through the use of huge puppets. Then I learned that Steven Spielberg would be bringing the book and play to life on the big screen and I couldn’t wait to see it. Of course, events conspired against me and I was unable to see it while it played in theaters, but happily, I was recently able to rent a copy and watch it in the solitude of my home.
The movie opens just before World War I. A young man named Albert Narracott (Jeremy Irvine) witnesses the birth of a horse and instantly falls in love. Albert’s father (Peter Mullan), searching for a work horse for the farm, gets involved in a bidding war with his landlord (David Thewlis) and purchases a colt instead. When he brings it home, Albert’s mother (Emily Watson) wants the colt returned immediately, but Albert instantly recognizes him as the horse he has been keeping an eye on ever since birth and begs to keep him. His parents concede and Albert names the horse Joey.
While everyone laughs at Ted Narracott’s purchase, Albert believes in the colt and his abilities. He finds Joey to be incredibly intelligent and talented and, to the shock of everyone in the town of Devon, teaches Joey how to plow just in time to save the farm. Unfortunately, the Narracott luck is not at all good and the crops are destroyed after a particularly hard rain. In a last ditch effort to save his farm, Ted sells the horse to a soldier in the British Army (Tom Hiddleston). Albert is devastated, but vows that he will find Joey no matter what.
This is just the beginning of Joey’s adventures as he finds himself fighting against the Germany Army. Befriending another horse named Topthorn, Joey proves himself to be a prize purchase for his new master, but this joy is short-lived. Joey and Topthorn are captured and put into service by the Germans, hauling ambulances and artillery. The two find themselves kidnapped by a couple of deserters a short time later. Joey and Topthorn soon find themselves the property of a young girl named Emilie (Celine Buckens) and her grandfather (Niels Arestrup). Finding the two horses hidden in their windmill, Emilie begs her grandfather to keep them. Emilie’s grandfather can’t resist his only granddaughter’s entreaties, but begs her not to ride them as she suffers from brittle bone disease and one fall could mean her end.
Joey and Topthorn enjoy relative bliss with Emilie and her grandfather until German soldiers take them away and put them to work hauling heavy artillery. Topthorn succumbs to exhaustion and Joey is alone again, but thanks to a kind private in the Germany army (Nicholas Bro) is allowed to escape Topthorn’s fate. He runs away, but almost immediately finds himself in trouble, caught in between two warring factions.
Meanwhile, Albert is now old enough to fight in the war and finds himself storming a German foxhole. As fellow soldiers fall all around him, Albert fights his way into the German trenches with his platoon, only to be overcome when the trenches are filled with Mustard Gas.
How can Joey and Albert survive this war that has helped to drive them so far apart? And even if they were to survive, how would they ever hope to find one another?
War Horse is less a tale about a man and his horse as it is about loyalty and trust. Throughout the film we see how intensely loyal Joey is to those he loves - his mother, Albert, Emilie and Topthorn. Albert is intensely loyal to his family and to Joey. That loyalty helps both Albert and Joey face insurmountable feats and surpass all expectations. It has been a long time since I have watched such a terrific film with such values at its core. And of course, it would be a Steven Spielberg film - who else could achieve such greatness in film?
The cinematography was absolutely beautiful. I loved the scenery placing the viewer right in the heart of the poor town of Devon, straight into the beauty of the French countryside, down into the harsh trenches of battle and more. The light and dark times of Joey’s life are accentuated by the background lighting of the film, the most fearful of times featuring harsh glares of light against a black backdrop and the lighter moments filled with bright sunlight and fluffy white clouds against a bright blue sky.
The animal acting in this film was outstanding. The trainers of the various horses used to portray Joey did an outstanding job. The horses were beautiful and performed so well as to make the movie’s storyline incredibly believable. Just as incredible was the human acting and one couldn’t help but root for newcomer Jeremy Irvine as he fought to reunite himself with his beloved horse. Emily Watson turned in yet another perfect performance as the long-suffering wife of a down on his luck war hero and mother of a son she is incredibly proud of. I have taken an interest in Emily Watson’s acting ever since her incredible performance as Angela McCourt in Angela’s Ashes.
The musical score of the film was incredible, blending the Celtic sounds indigenous to Devon and beautiful orchestral pieces that serve to enhance the dramatic moments in the film. Who else could create such an amazing score but John Williams?
I absolutely love this film and I wish I could have seen it on the big screen which I am certain would have been an amazing experience. I can’t wait to purchase my own copy of this amazing film and share the heartwarming beauty of War Horse with others. Who knew such an epic movie event could come from a children’s story written in 1982? The movie plays out nothing like a children’s story and makes for an enjoyable experience for young and old alike. This is a very special movie that will be talked about for decades to come.