Movie review – Tale of love in war

2012-02-24 08:19

Film: War Horse (Ster-Kinekor)
Director: Steven Spielberg
Featuring: Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson, David Thewlis, Tom Hiddleston and Benedict Cumberbatch
Rating: 7/10

This epic, sweeping tale of war, friendship, hardship and love is vintage Steven Spielberg. Nominated for six Oscars, including for set direction, cinematography and the coverted best picture, it has been written off as over-sentimental by some critics.

I, for one, though think it is a glorious, richly textured story of a friendship that survives the first great global conflict.

There are also a couple of South African connections. For the stage play, based on Michael Morpurgo’s 1982 children’s novel, the horses Joey and Topthorn were created as puppets by the multiaward-winning Cape Town outfit, The Handspring Puppet Company. Also, in the film, Joey is a South African horse too, the same one who starred as Seabiscuit, the famous Depression-era horse.

As a child, Black Beauty, Anna Sewell’s 1877 novel, was one of my favourites and in some ways this is reminiscent of that story. It is about humanity and keeping it in times of madness and brutality. It is about how random acts of kindness and bravery in the most dire of circumstances matter.

Albert (Jeremy Irvine) is a troubled boy from a poor tenant farmer family.

When his drunken father brings home a very expensive thoroughbred instead of the cart horse he was sent to market to buy, he sets in motion the story of a great friendship between man and horse.

Albert calls the horse Joey, and together they achieve the impossible to save the family from financial ruin – but then the war comes and everything changes.

Joey is sold to the cavalry and goes to war – along the way he makes friends with another horse, Topthorn, and together they watch thousands of men die, are captured by the enemy, saved by a sick little girl, before being driven close to death by cruel men. But there is always hope.

Once he is old enough Albert enlists and goes to war to find his only friend, his horse Joey.

I am not ashamed to say that I pretty much cried through the whole film. Yes, I know it was a form of emotional blackmail – whatever, I loved it.

This is a wonderful family film that teaches all sorts of important lessons about loyalty, responsibility, kindness and friendship.

Sewell, whose animal welfare activism was way ahead of her time, would have approved.

In Chapter 13 of Black Beauty she writes: “... there is no religion without love, and people may talk as much as they like about their religion, but if it does not teach them to be good and kind to man and beast, it is all a sham?.?.?.”

War Horse makes a similar point, on a masterpiece Spielberg canvas. Pack your tissues and leave your cynicism at home.

» Follow me on Twitter @GayleMahala

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