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War Horse


Stars: Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson, Peter Mullan, David Thewlis, Tom Hiddleston, Robert Emms, Geoff Bell, Eddie Marsan, Benedict Cumberbatch, Toby Kebbell, Liam Cunningham, Julian Wadham, Niels Arestup

Director: Steven Spielberg

It's hard to know what to make of Spielberg's adaptation of the long-running play based on the book by Michael Morpurgo. What Spielberg has made is kind of a double-length version of Black Beauty. And the result, which doesn't really get going until it hits the World War I battle scenes, certainly is - as most two-and-a-half-hour films will be - much too long.

There's a leisurely beginning set in the Devon countryside on a thatched farm which can only, in spirit, be a few miles from Ambridge, where alcoholic Boer War veteran Mullan and his worn-down-by-the-land wife Watson battle to hold on to their home. Alas, like Jack in the beanstalk story, Mullan spends his last few pounds on a colt instead of the shire horse he'd been sent to buy, exposing the farm to the clutches of pitiless landlord Thewlis, who would throw the family out into the snow if he could find any.

Rescue comes from the family son (Irvine), who trains the colt, Joey, to plough, only to see his dad sell Joey to the army at the onset of World War I when the family turnip harvest fails. The rest of the film concerns the horse's hazardous passage through the war and his eventual return to his rightful owner.

Apart from an idyllic interlude when Joey is sheltered by a sickly young girl (Celine Buckens, who has only the sketchiest ideas about acting), and a sunset finale right out of Gone With the Wind, the rest of the film, especially all the World War I stuff, is pretty good, with some sensational shots of the horse on the run - and, despite an uncharacteristically laughable performance from Marsan towards the end - it does draw the intended tear. Parents should be warned that the movie, apart from being a long sit for small bottoms, may upset sensitive youngsters at the apparent cruelty to horses.

David Quinlan

UK 2011. UK Distributor: Walt Disney. Colour by deluxe.
147 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 1, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 09 Jan 2012