War Horse DI
2012 Running time: 146 Certificate: 12 Rating: 3
KA War Horse

Synopsis

The inspiring story of a horse that survived the horrors of the trenches in World War One gallops onto the big screen after previous successful run-outs as a novel and play. Steven Spielberg brings his customary skill as a master storyteller to bear on the equine fable with newcomer Jeremy Irvine as the Devonshire farmer's son who tames the beast and follows him to the hell-on-earth that was the Somme. Ravishing visuals - particularly a brutal infantry assault across No Man's Land - plus a solid script ensure that this is an adventure which is first past the post.

Director

  • Steven Spielberg

Cast

  • Jeremy Irvine

  • Benedict Cumberbatch

  • Tom Hiddlestone

  • David Thewlis

  • Emily Watson

Review

From Seabiscuit to National Velvet and Black Beauty to Secretariat, horse movies have romped home as odds-on favourites for good old entertainment value.

However, few have jumped a marauding World War One tank, dodged a shower of artillery shells and cantered between enemy lines and lived to tell the tale.

Trot forward Joey (actually played by 14 horses), a fiery hunter whose fate carries an old-fashioned story of loyalty, honour and heroism.

In Steven Spielberg's adaptation of the award-winning stage play (itself based on Michael Morpego's novel) the life of the courageous nag is chronicled from birth in a Devon field to his brush with fate on the battlefields of France.

A foolish auction purchase by sozzled tenant farmer Peter Mullan, it's up to his son Albert (Irvine) to tame and train him, eventually having to release him to the British army as war looms.

Fortunately, he's the chosen steer of English officer Tom Hiddleston, a good sort who takes him across to France where German Maxim guns - aka The Devil's Paintbrush - make short work of an anachronistic cavalry charge.

Spielberg opts for the straighforwardly chronological which - on the plus side - features a visually stunning canter through the trenches - and, less so, a dramatically inert section where Joey and his equine buddy are billeted with a French farmer.

Still, it's a solid affair which thankfully avoids any Disney-style anthropomorphism and - bearing in mind its mainly teen audience - avoids graphic bloodletting. In other words, it's not Private Ryan riding The Black Stallion in the 4.40 at Ypres.

Billy Elliot scribe Lee Hall and Blackadder and Four Weddings writer Richard Curtis provide an efficient if rather flat script and manage to create an unlikely conversation where a South Shields Tommy refers to a German opponent as "pet".

Fortunately, the real pet here is Joey...and he's a cinematic thoroughbred.