At the start of the year one of the films I was looking forward to seeing the most was Steven Spielberg’s War Horse but I never got the chance to see it in the cinema. Recently though I got the film on DVD and was finally able to watch it and, while it’s not as good as the incredible stage version (aka the best stage show I’ve ever seen) this is still a great film.The first area I have to complement is the amazing cast Spielberg has assembled with amazing actors being cast in very small roles. I mean people like Tom Hiddleston, Benedict Cumberbatch, Eddie Marsan, Peter Mullan, David Thewlis, Emily Watson and Liam Cunningham all appear in the film in minor roles and the only actor who has a real major role in the film is newcomer Jeremy Irvine as Albert. All of these people do an amazing job, which is to be expected from the talent of the cast and the fact that all of these great actors are in small roles give these characters more staying power in the mind of the audience.
However, the real stars of the film are the horses. The trailer made it look like the main relationship of the film was between Albert and Joey but when you watch the film the relationship you get most attached to is the one between Joey and Topthorn and as a result of this it creates different feelings towards the characters in the film, you like the ones who are kind to Joey and Topthorn and angry at those that are cruel towards them and this is all done with very little dialogue. In the hands of a lesser director, the bonding scenes between Joey and Topthorn could have become unintentionally hilarious but since we have Steven Spielberg in the directors chair then these scenes become incredibly heartfelt and you really feel sorry for Joey and Topthorn whenever anyone is cruel to them.
Speaking of Spielberg, on a technical level War Horse is a marvel. Spielberg is able to convey the horror of World War One without showing any blood using clever camera-work and editing to convey this instead. The scene which best shows this is when some German army deserters are shot, a windmill covers up them being shot but you see the bodies. The imagery of the failure of the cavalry charge against the Germans at the start of the war also brings to mind something I’ve felt about the tactics of Britain during the early stages of World War One in that they were using 19th Century tactics in a 20th Century war, tactics that were incredibly outdated due to the advancements in technology and the simply imagery used during this scene compounds this point. There is also a show on the strains on the minds of the young men during the war and this is shown through a powerful image of a man choosing to go into No Man’s Land rather than shoot his fellow soldiers for retreating and this is done without a single word being spoken. The music also compounds the emotions of the film with John Williams providing strong uplifting music for the scenes set in Devon and then really haunting music for the scenes set during the War and, as usual for Williams music, the music is incredible to listen to and in some ways is a bit of a throwback to the classic war films meant to be uplifting rather than the modern, horrific looks at war.
The script at times is a bit over-dramatic in some points but there are also a few scenes which allow a bit of humour to shine through and this becomes all the more apparent when you realise that Richard Curtis, writer of Blackadder Goes Forth, co-wrote the screenplay and it seems really fitting as I’ve always felt that Blackadder Goes Forth, especially the final episode, is one of the most honest looks into life in the trenches during World War One and as such it feels like Curtis had a great understanding of the War. There is also a scene near the end which really reminds me of the Christmas Day Truce during the War which shows knowledge of what happened during the war, although this is more of a credit to Michael Morpurgo (who wrote the book the film is based on) rather than Richard Curtis.
In conclusion, War Horse is a brilliant film, a great introduction to the next generation to World War One (which in some ways gives it a bit of similarities to The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas which was meant to show this generation the horrors of the Holocaust) and just an overall great film. While I would still recommend the stage version over the film, if you want to see the story of War Horse adapted from the book, you can’t go wrong with this film.
My Rating: 4.5/5