Unashamedly sentimental cinema from Spielberg
As War Horse begins, with soaring shots of rolling English hills and a sweeping John Williams overture, director Steven Spielberg sends a clear message: settle down for some large-canvas, unashamedly romanticised, old-fashioned big-screen storytelling. Over the following 146 minutes that is exactly what he delivers, and it’s absolutely wonderful cinema.
Using both Michael Morpurgo’s 1982 novel and the more recent acclaimed theatre adaptation as sources, Spielberg and writers Richard Curtis and Lee Hall have crafted a stirring family drama that movingly celebrates bravery and companionship while powerfully condemning the brutal devastation of war.
The titular horse is Joey, bought by alcoholic, debt-ridden farmer Ted Narracott (Peter Mullan) in a peaceful England unwittingly on the brink of World War I. Ted’s teenage son Albert (Jeremy Irvine) immediately connects with Joey, but when the war comes the horse is required to serve. The war takes him through different masters on all sides of the conflict until Albert and Joey are reunited amidst the horrors of the trenches. Through it all Spielberg demonstrates his unparalleled ability to capture specific humanity within large-scale drama. In an excellent ensemble cast Tom Hiddleston, Emily Watson and A Prophet’s Niels Arestrup are standouts.