Release Date: December 26
I’m not one for horse movies. I was unimpressed by The Horse Whisperer, unmoved during Pharlap, and I still experience uncontrollable shudders when someone mentions International Velvet. However War Horse is the sort of film that I’d happily use to lead a charge to the cinemas these holidays.
The second Spielberg release slated for Boxing Day, War Horse is based on the best-selling children’s novel by Michael Morpurgo. It describes the complex relationship between a Devon boy named Albert Narracott (Jeremy Irvine) and a farm horse called Joey. No one ever expected the colt of a racehorse to make good on a broken down farm, but together he and his tongue-tied owner discover a new confidence in their abilities – until World War One intervenes. When the conflict engulfs Europe Joey is sold to the British Army and sent to the trenches. However the death of his rider sees Albert’s horse abandoned in a terrifying landscape. Before the film is through Joey will serve on both sides of the line as well as live with a French family caught in between. But he hasn’t been forgotten by Albert who, though too young to serve, has set off for the front to find his friend.
There are many things in War Horse worth the price of admission. Peter Mullan and Emily Watson portray Albert’s mother and father, an endearing couple who’ve battled blight, bad memories and the bottle to make their farm pay. Ted Narracott’s drinking leads him to make foolish decisions, but mother Rose warns Albert that’s not a reason to disrespect him. She shows him the castaway medals from the Boer War that his father never speaks and points to his day to day bravery:
“Your father does stupid things and he drinks to forget those things, but he has never given up and he does that for us. You remember that.”
However War Horse is not a film that glorifies conflict. Rather, it investigates its on-going tragedy from every angle. The film’s decision to view the struggles of war through the eyes of a horse is a clever way of showing the universal suffering conflict brings. The tragedy of war extends beyond what we do to each other to what our sin has done to the rest of creation. As one soldier puts it, “We’ve taken an animal designed to run and be free and taught to run into danger rather than away from it.”
The topic matter means it is best kept for more mature children, but by the end of the film viewers will have a clear understanding that this was not the world God designed for man or beast.