That ole ‘Warhorse’ Gallops into View

There are two prerequisites for being a movie reviewer in Lexington Ky.: 1) review all films involving George Clooney (which in itself is a formidable task since he seems to appear on the big screen more than the local weatherman does on the TV) and 2) review all movies about horses (usually filmed here as well, e.g. Seabiscuit). I am in good standing when it comes to these criteria.

The phrase ‘that ole Warhorse’ comes actually from the world of music, and refers to a familiar tune often sung or played, that has become something of a classic. This film has that feel, familiar, and yet fresh. I would urge don’t let the familiar scare you off in the search for something fresh. This is old time film-making of the best sort.

It has been a good while since we have had an epic war movie of Schindler’s List or Saving Private Ryan proportions, but ‘Warhorse’, a WWI film, is such a movie, and yes, the central character of the movie is a horse named Joey. Since this story has first been on Broadway and in the West End in London, after watching the movie one wonders how it could be ably pulled off on the small stage (especially without a major pooper scooper) since the horse is ubiquitous in this story, but never mind, in the movie the story fairly gallops across the screen with glorious cinematography.

Steven Spielberg is a master of making movies of epic proportions and this movie is certainly a good illustration of his considerable craft from the opening bucolic farms scenes (supposedly in Devon, but it looks a lot more like the Yorkshire Dales frankly) to the closing sunset scenes in the same locale (with an homage to the final sunset scene in another famous war movie— ‘Gone with the Wind’). The movie is so full of good scenes that one doesn’t mind at all that it goes on for 2 hours 26 minutes. Here is a film where you genuinely care what happens to the central characters– Albert Narricott and his horse Joey.

As an old circus performer reminded long ago, be careful with sharing the stage with an animal, as they will upstage you. In this movie there is no doubt— the star of the film is Joey. Indeed one will be hard-pressed to recognize any human actor in this film, apart from a cameo appearance of Benedict Cumberbatch as a British commander. No matter. The story generates empathy, pathos, and not a few tears as we watch the trials and tribulations and loves and losses of Joey. And let it be said Joey is one impressive horse. He goes off to war, gets caught in the trenches between the Brits and the Bosch, takes a licking, and keeps on ticking.

You do not need to have owned a horse or two as my family has done (it’s almost a requirement for living in Lexington) to appreciate this film. Indeed, this film could have been named ‘A Horse and his Boy’, with apologies to C.S. Lewis. The story has a Hobbit format, by which I mean ‘there and back again’, or home, away, and back home. Spielberg builds the tale slowly and gracefully as we learn of small village life and farm life in England at the cusp of WWI. We learn of the story of the Narricotts, and their mean landlord who means to take their land from them, and Joey proves to be the possible means of doing so. But Joey, like all good servants of King and Country, has to do his duty and go off to war, the last real world war where horses were a major factor.

I will not spoil this film’s story for you which has already gotten a Golden Globe nomination for Best Picture. But I would definitely encourage you to see it. Frankly I expected far more focus on the war scenes that this film actually has, and while a few of the scenes are too intense for very young children, on the whole this is definitely a good family film for one and all, completely free of gratuitous sex scenes or bad language. If you like tales of overcoming all odds, and coming home again, an appropriate theme for us now that our soldiers are home from Iraq, this is the movie for you.

  • Jaltman

    The stagd play used elaborate “horse puppets.”

  • Emlyn Williams

    I haven’t seen the movie but the stage production is stunning with incredible and totally convincing puppetry. A key song in the play is ‘Only Remembered’, a Horatius Bonar/ Ira Sankey hymn which was sung at Spurgeon’s funeral. Hearing the audience humming it as they left the theatre (probably not knowing what it was!) was quite something. Here’s a version of it http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VjcgbjfBc_o


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