Bad accents don’t ruin this children’s story of war.
Between Saving Private Ryan, Schindler’s List and Band of Brothers, Steven Spielberg has covered World War II inside and out. Until now, though, Spielberg – like most of Hollywood – had yet to turn his lens on the First World War. With War Horse, Spielberg follows a horse through the tides and turns of the war, weaving together a series of poignant stories from both sides of the battlefield.
War Horse begins in an idyllic country village in England, where a boy called Albert (Jeremy Irvine) raises and trains a horse he names Joey. When England is swept into war, Joey is taken away from Albert and sent across the English Channel to the Western Front. From there, the story follows him behind enemy lines and into the German cavalry, to the farm of a young French girl, into a tangle of barbed wire in no man’s land and through all four years of the war.
Based on a 1982 children’s novel by Michael Morpurgo, War Horse was adapted to the London stage in 2007, to great acclaim. Spielberg’s stunning transition to the screen doesn’t disappoint. From the sweeping green of the English countryside to haunting battlefield panoramas, the film is visually striking from start to finish. Spielberg effectively captures the terror and torture of trench warfare like no other film in recent history.
The first twenty minutes are the film’s clear weak point, but once the plot begins to move with the coming of war, it is gripping until the end. It is war through the eyes of the young and the innocent, a moving account of the interplay between battle and regular life. An unlikely encounter between an English and a German soldier is particularly affecting, demonstrating with painfully dry humor the senselessness of it all.
With an eye to detail and beautiful storytelling, War Horse hits its mark. It is a war film in which war comes second to those it envelops, providing a rare look into both the trenches of World War I and the lives they displaced.
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson, David Thewlis, a Horse
Rated PG-13. 146 min.
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