Photo credit: http://www.nam.ac.uk/microsites/war-horse/1889/blog/win-tickets-to-the-uk-premiere-of-war-horse/
I saw this at an Odeon with a very good friend on Sunday (29 January).
War Horse, despite having Benedict Cumberbatch in it, was NOT a film I was rushing to see as I love the National Theatre's stage production truly, madly, deeply. I saw it a few times at the National, and I saw it last Summer with a friend in the West End. It is still the one theatre production that I recommend to everyone who asks me for a recommendation for something to see when they are visiting London. The magic of the stage production is 90% down to the amazing puppet horses (see image below). Spielberg was using real horses so what made War Horse special on the stage was going to be absent from the film.
Topthorn (left) and Joey (right), the stars of the show, War Horse, National Theatre
Photo credit: http://performingarts.about.com/od/Costumes/ig/The-Puppets-of-War-Horse/The-Illusion-of-Life.htm
However, Spielberg is one of my favourite film Directors and he is, basically, a genius. He is also brilliant at taking stories and making them into films that have universal appeal, including children and young people. I knew War Horse would be safe in his hands. So I went along to the film with a sense of anticipation (in a good way).
The film blew me away. I have not read the book so I am only comparing it with the stage version. The film tugs at your heart-strings - Spielberg always does that; in fact, this is a given in a Spielberg film.
The story is told very powerfully in a simple and linear way. There are many episodes in Joey's story and they are all told with love and clearly delineated. There are ups and downs, highs and lows, triumphs and disasters. The story starts in England in peacetime and crosses over to France in wartime. We see countryside and town, upper, middle and working class, military and civilian, English and French, and we see friendships crossing all kinds of divides of nationality, race, class and even species! Through all of this, we are with Joey every step of the way.
For me, the most powerful segments of the film, were the scenes on the battlefields and in the trenches of World War I. I have seen many war films over the years, and they do affect me deeply, but I will say that, for me, the scenes in this film are the most powerful and impactful I have seen, and they are truly harrowing and horrifying. They felt (looked and sounded) very real. They are, for me, amongst the best war scenes I have ever seen on a big screen, and they pull no punches. They really convey the full horror of being a soldier in the midst of the First World War.
But it is not all war and doom and gloom. There are some lovely, beautiful and touching scenes with Albert and Joey and Emilie and Joey which is all about the special bond that a child can have with an animal, and the deep love and respect that can grow up between them. There is also an incredibly touching and moving scene, when a British soldier and a German soldier are working together to cut Joey free from the wire; that scene affected me very powerfully and was quite beautiful.
We all know that I am a sucker for a man in uniform, most especially a British Army Officer. Benedict's role in this film is very fleeting - this film is Albert and Joey's story. What I will say is that Benedict nails this part (when doesn't he nail a part?!). He has the accent right down to a tee but, more than that, he has the attitude right down to a tee. He conveys in the way he stands and walks and in his voice real authority, with just the right touch of arrogance and self-confidence. He comes across as someone who is supremely confident, both in himself, and in his role and standing in society, and in the actions he is carrying out on behalf of King and Country. Totally believable!
Photo credit: http://www.benedictcumberbatch.co.uk/Warhorsemovie/war-horse-stills/
If at all possible, do go and see this on a big screen, not on DVD at home. The film is much richer when seen on a big screen (it was designed to be seen on a big screen) and the Dolby surround sound really adds to the effect. Many films nowadays do not need to be seen on the big screen, but this one does!
To summarise, I loved War Horse the film, and it comes highly highly highly recommended. Get on down to your cinema now!
And please don't ask me to choose between the stage and the film versions; they are both real gems; perfect and flawless in their own unique way.