A young farming lad trains a beautiful colt that his father rashly buys at auction and creates a bond that surpasses his dreams, only to lose the horse in a forced sale to save the family farm. Sold to the cavalry in the Great War, the adventures for the horse are just beginning. His suffering and spirit to overcome are the essence of a wonderful animal story with wide appeal.
The reviewers' label - a cross between Private Ryan and Black Beauty - isn't far off the mark. The two extremes at least appeal to a wide audience, although neither side will enjoy the taste of the other.
Steven Spielberg's War Horse encapsulates the age-old theme of a boy's love for his animal, and spins a sentimental tale of the bond between the two. The filming is wonderful, the wranglers, those who train the horses to do everything so perfectly, are stars in their field, and the actors, Emily Watson, Peter Mullan and Jeremy Irvine as Albert, complete the picture and add a certain conviction.
Inspired by the book of the same name by Michael Morpurgo, the story has also been dramatised for the stage, where the horses are enormous puppets operated by more than one person, and is now playing on Broadway.
However, it is an animal story after all and will bring tears and smiles to the young and gasps of surprise and amazement to the rest of us.
The narrative cleverly entwines the horrific crucible of war with the beauty and glorious courage of a horse without blood, but leaving the meaning clear with lightly veiled depictions of the violence. The idea to show horses being loved across enemy lines with the same passion is also an anti-war sentiment that is not lost and a special scene, rather like that famous Christmas Eve carol-singing across the trenches between German and British soldiers, adds a twist. Add to that the Gone With The Wind sunset-saturated moments of pure sentimentality, it is a mixed bag, but hugely appealing. For purists who love horses, and there are many of us, it is a fulfilling experience of heart-stopping moments and long sequences of equine indulgence.
M, 146 minutes