This is my review of War Horse [DVD] .
The actress Emily Watson has observed that, in “War Horse”, Spielberg has made an anti-war film for children. To some extent this excuses the undeniably sentimental tone of the film together with some improbable coincidences.
Films of successful books are often failures, but despite some carping from the critics, Spielberg’s version seems to me to work well. Against the striking backdrop of Dartmoor, we see how the young farmer’s son, Albert, breaks in the beautiful thoroughbred Joey, purchased in a rash moment by his drunken farmer. When the horse is purchased by the army on the outbreak of the First World War, we trace Joey’s adventures through some technically brilliant battle scenes. Once Albert is old enough to join up, how will it be possible for the two to meet again? No doubt for practical reasons, Spielberg dispenses with the book’s central device of seeing the world through the eyes of the horse.
Views of life and warfare in the trenches which may be all too familiar are offset by the less well-known focus on the use of horses in this war, mainly to carry soldiers in an antiquated cavalry charge or to haul heavy artillery up steep muddy slopes, with a high death rate due to sheer exhaustion. Impressive skill is used in training the horses to take part in these scenes, or creating convincing images of this, apparently with minimal use of computer graphics.
The film is entertaining with a few low points , such as the scenes between the besotted French grandfather and his pert daughter both speaking English with strong accents because apparently American audiences prefer this to subtitles. Yet there are also some moving incidents, as when an English soldier collaborates with a German in No Man’s Land to save a horse, an act of humanity over a symbol of beauty in the living hell of war. There is plenty of violence, but it is portrayed as folly, or waste, rather than glorified or dwelt on for its own sake. Examples of the class divide in Britain a century ago are also quite telling.
Overall, it may prove a welcome break to leave the normal cynical, corrupt world of “feel bad” adult films to watch this.