War Horse

STEVEN Spielberg has described his new feature, War Horse as his first British film yet. Shot almost entirely in the United Kingdom and featuring a largely British cast, including Emily Watson, David Thewlis and Peter Mullan.

The film tells the story of a thoroughbred horse bought by a farmer for more than he can afford, eventually he is forced to sell the animal to the war effort at the outbreak of the First World War. His young son Andrew, played by newcomer Jeremy Irvine, is devastated, having formed a tight bound with the horse, naming it Joey. When he is old enough he enlists in the British army, in an attempt to be reunited with his horse. The film follows the events that befall both Andrew and Joey, in a story that spawns the Devon countryside, to war torn Europe.

The film is based on the novel by Michael Morpurgo which was published in 1982. In 2007 the novel was turned into a successful stage production, it was reported that Spielberg was moved to tears after attending a performance of the production. The film’s screenplay was co-written by Lee Hall and Richard Curtis, it differs from both the novel and stage play by not having Joey as the story’s narrator.

War Horse is also the first film that has been edited digitally by Spielberg’s long-time collaborator, Michael Kahn. Kahn has traditionally edited nearly all of Spielberg’s films on a moviola editing machine. The film is accompanied by a beautiful and assured score by John Williams.

Spielberg has described his feature as being a family film, the British board of film classification has gave the film a 12A certificate, for scenes of moderate violence with no emphasis on injuries or blood. The film also has the American human association’s accreditation, guaranteeing that no animals were harmed in the making of the film.

Spielberg is the master of fine storytelling, he manages to get eerily human reactions from his animal stars, at times putting his human co-stars to shame. The film’s battle sequences might lack the shock value of Saving Private Ryan, but they are cinematically stunning, shot with the director’s trademark style. A scene in which Joey gallops through the battlefield and no man’s land is breath-taking.

On the downside the film becomes slightly episodic during the middle, as Joey is transferred from various owners. The characters have only short periods of screen time and it’s difficult to build any real emotional attachment with them. Tom Hiddleston’s character, captain Nicholls manages to stand out but the film’s strongest moments come from the relationship between Adam and Joey.

Despite being slightly sentimental at times, War Horse marks a welcome return to form for Spielberg, it’s great to see him directing again after recent years of only producing other films. War Horse has a fantastic debut performance from Jeremy Irvine, and a strong supporting cast, in particular Emily Watson as Andrew’s strong willed mother. The feature has all the characteristics of a great Hollywood epic, its closing scenes reminiscent of the finale of Gone with the Wind.

By William McClean

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