Disclaimer – I haven’t read the book or seen the stage show. This review is purely based on the recently broadcast film version.
I wasn’t expecting to like War Horse. It was showing on TV and was kind of on by default whilst we decided what else to watch. I think horses are beautiful animals, but I’m not a fan. I had a vague idea of the plot, knew it was based on a novel by Michael Morpurgo.
So what do you get when you combine Steven Spielberg as director with a story by a children’s author, a cast containing faces recognised around the world (Benedict Cumberbatch, David Thwelis, Tom Hiddleston to mention a few) and music by John Williams? You get an excellent film – and that’s what motivated me to post this review.
War Horse is not always an easy film to watch – it is rated 12A in the UK. Those of us with real experience of barbed wire gasped at one point. It does also have a few lighter moments. Younger viewers will have many questions about World War I – some adults too, as the film shows but doesn’t tell. There are both human and animal characters; the animals aren’t characters in a cutesy Babe kind of way but they’re characters all the same. The film doesn’t shy away from the senselessness and waste of war; it even hints at issues such as PTSD, but it isn’t gratuitous or gory. At its heart the film explores the relationships between Joey the horse and the various characters he encounters (English, German, French and Equine) against the backdrop of his early life in Devon and then the war in Europe; and if the end isn’t happy for everyone it’s worth watching nonetheless.
Some might think that the plot War Horse is too fantastic, after all only a few tens of thousands of the millions of horses and donkeys that took part in World War I survived. If so have a look at the story of Warrior, a horse born and bred here on the Isle of Wight. Warrior’s story is not that of Joey from War Horse but he did experience some the kinds of action that War Horse depicts. Warrior was quite a celebrity in his time and a book was written about him in 1934. You can find a statue of Warrior and his owner Jack Seely in the gardens of Carisbrooke Castle.
Obligatory Amazon Product Links:
War Horse on DVD
War Horse Novel (paperback, hardback, kindle)
Warrior: The Amazing Story of a Real War Horse paperback
Warrior The Real War Horse – Presented by Brough Scott DVD