War Horse, Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s children’s book, comes to UK cinemas this Friday… but should you take the kids?
I was invited to the star studded War Horse premiere in London’s Leicester Square on Sunday January 8th, enjoying my moment on the red carpet along with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (Kate and Wills), the War Horse cast (Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson, and Benedict Cumberbatch among others, and Joey the horse), a host of military personnel and veterans, Richard Curtis, Michael Morpurgo, and Spielberg himself.
War Horse is a moving story of Joey, a chestnut brown thoroughbred horse, and his journey from a farm in Devon to the battlefield of the First World War. From his first encounter with Albert, who breaks him in and trains him, he touches the lives of everyone he encounters.
The first and last 15 minutes of the film were a little too schmaltzy for my liking, with over simplified dialogue, sweeping music and lots of pained expressions. The opening scenes such as the one depicted above felt a bit “colour-by-number” – they ticked all the boxes (poor family, devoted son, pained mother, drunk father, evil landlord, big sunsets, ridiculous accents) but with no real substance.
Soon though, the film takes a turn and immerses us in a shockingly brutal and realistic (but not gory) portrayal of war and finally, thankfully, draws us in.
Despite having watched my fair share of war films, for the first time in my life I felt I understood how frightening and horrific it must have been for those young lads in the trenches. How much weight and grief a simple statement like “he served in the war” carries. It made me look at my family tree in a whole new light, how my entire history has been shaped by war and suffering, and what that really means.
The film’s portrayal of the life of war horses is equally stark and depressing, and I found myself turning away from the screen many times when it was just too much to bear.
My sense is that War Horse is an important film, that it’s something everyone should see to begin to understand what war is really about.
Throughout the film Joey (the war horse) is ‘adopted’ by a series of different people, alternately living a contented life on a farm and working under gruelling conditions pulling artillery for the army. Aside from the unexpectedly amusing and heartbreaking scene in No Man’s Land, a scene I will remember for a long time to come, I felt most of those interactions were a bit weak and the dialogue too polished to feel natural.
What really stands out is the friendship between Joey and black war horse. There is a silent but powerful understanding between them, and a sense of companionship that I didn’t think it was possible to witness among horses. There is one scene in particular which moved many in the audience to tears – again, no clever dialogue or pink sunsets, just a hint at what you would sacrifice for someone you loved.
Worth seeing? And should you bring the children?
Overall, War Horse is a moving and powerful film, and if you are able to ignore the occasional moment of Hollywood cheese, I would highly recommend seeing this film.
But…. should you bring the children? Absolutely not. Although Michael Morpurgo’s book is written for children aged 8 and up, the film is rated 12A and with good reason. The imagery is very realistic and although it’s not a blood-and-guts film, there are genuinely disturbing images on the battlefield (including dead and injured horses) that many children (and adults!) would find upsetting.
My advice is to think of this as a great excuse to find a babysitter (our friends at Findababysitter.com can help you with that!).
War Horse Film Preview, Interviews and UK Premiere:
Many thanks to the Walt Disney Company for inviting me to the War Horse film premiere as their guest, and to the Radisson Edwardian Leicester Square for the best ever hotel room for enjoying the build up and celebrity spotting on the red carpet.
Thanks in advance to Ancestry.co.uk who have offered to provide me with the very best resources for delving deeper still into my family history, and for helping me make the most of their military records.