Re:View – ‘War Horse’
I turned down tickets to see the show when an alarm in my head sounded about noble beasts and tearful lads, and indeed, it would take a heart of stone not to laugh at parts of this tragic tale. My cynical stance came from the idea that I would have to watch a depoliticised view of war in which horses meant more than people, and so the film version proves.
But Heavens, it’s Christmas, it’s Disney and it’s a family film, and Mr Spielberg has crafted a loving tribute to Joey the wonder horse with the aid of a sweet if bland script from Richard Curtis and Lee Hall. Young Albert saves the farm after drunken Dad (Peter Mullen) buys a thoroughbred that evil landlord (David Thewlis – all but twirling his moustache and cackling) says can’t plough his flinty field. Albert hitches up his best friend and works through the night, but loses Joey when he’s sold to the army. Luckily a kindly officer who’s a dab hand with a sketch pad sends him pictures of the horse doing well.
What follows is a picaresque tale of the horse’s various owners, including two German brothers and a young girl and her grandfather living in a windmill, in a winsome pastoral interlude that seems to have drifted in from ‘The Sound of Music’.
This has to be the most wholesome war ever. Lots of soldiers are gunned down but nobody bleeds, and everyone is basically nice to each other; it’s a child’s eye view. However, last half hour almost makes up for everything that has gone before. Spielberg pulls off an astonishing sequence – one of his finest ever – when the horse bolts, terrified, through the battleground, only to become snared and rescued by co-operation between Germans and British soldiers.
The final scenes channel Gone With The Wind as the family are bathed in a ludicrous orange wash of sunset, accompanied by John Williams’ weakest, most treacly score in years, which plays virtually non-stop through the 2+ hours running time. What’s largely lacking is the unsentimental rigour Spielberg showed in ‘Empire of the Sun’ that would have made the tale genuinely poignant. There were plenty of dry eyes in our hardened London audience, but horse-loving children (i.e. middle class girls who want ponies) now have a new favourite film.