War Horse, which opened in theaters Christmas Day, is Steven Spielberg and DreamWorks Pictures latest offering. Spielberg adapted the story for the screen from a British play based on a children’s book by British author Michael Morpurgo. Although Morpurgo told the story from the horse’s point of view, the stage adaption used the humans involved with the horse to tell the horse's story. Spielberg reportedly saw the play in Europe and began work to produce the story for the screen.
Set in Europe at the time of World War I, War Horse tells the story of Joey, a thoroughbred, and Albert, the young boy who trains him. When the war comes to town, the boy’s father sells Joey to the British military in order to save the family’s farm. Too young to join the war effort himself, Albert parts ways with his beloved Joey and vows to see him again. Joey takes on a remarkable journey through World War I, leaving an indelible mark on the people he encounters, whether enemy or ally.
As always, Spielberg masterfully draws his audience in. Viewers are content to focus on the horse and not the battle. Although there are some fierce battle sequences, the scene in which Joey is forced to perform like a draught horse, pulling a huge cannon up a steep, muddy hill, is just as engaging as any scene from Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan. The movie offers something for all—drama, emotion, even humor.
After watching this movie, I wanted to know more. Although it seems like a real-life story, War Horse is a work of fiction. However, horses of all types were used in various ways on both sides during World War I. From a little online research, I was able to find that approximately one million horses were sent to war from the UK and only 62,000 returned. The others either died in the war or were slaughtered for food.
The real horse used to portray Joey in War Horse was actually 14 horses. Trainer Bobby Lovgren and his horse Finder, whom he bought after working with him in Seabiscuit, were the stars of the movie. According to a Thoroughbred Times article by Liane Crossley, Finder is actually Finder’s Key. Finder’s Key had a brief, unsuccessful racing career in California in 2002. Finder’s Key was the only non-European horse in War Horse, which was filmed in Europe.
Michael Morpurgo is an award-winning children’s author. Although I couldn’t find the book War Horse in the store during my brief search the other day, I did find a handful of Morpurgo’s children’s books at Half Price Books. Barnes & Noble Booksellers lists limited quantities of War Horse. This, and Morpurgo’s other books, are available on Amazon.com.
The film is rated PG-13 and is now playing at Baxter Avenue Theatres, Rave Motion Pictures Stonybrook Theater, Rave Motion Pictures Preston Crossing, Cinemark Tinseltown, and Great Escape River Falls. See the trailer below.
Photo: Courtesy DreamWorks Pictures