Having seen War Horse on stage in the West End, and absolutely loving it, I was eagerly awaiting the film version, but simultaneously praying that it wouldn’t ruin the story for me.
Suffice to say I was not disappointed. Directorially awe- inspiring, an emotional musical score and some Oscar-worthy acting, make for an emotional and entertaining two hours.
In the West End show, the audience’ interests were directed towards the family as a unit, and whether they as a whole would come through the war. The film, however, ensures that all interest is vetted in the relationship between Albie and Joey, with Albie’s parents and the villagers playing a minor peripheral role. This is hardly surprising; Spielberg recreates war scenes with such conviction, that much more screen time is given over to this part of the film. On stage, it is harder to recreate the horrors of war, so the villagers and the build up to the war
Unfortunately, I have not read the original novel (it’s on my ever-growing to-do list), so can make no comment about the interpretation that Morpurgo intended.
One disappointment was the casting of Albie’s mother, Emily Watson. For one, I couldn’t help thinking that she was far too young and fresh faced to play the worn down role of Rose Narracott, and secondly, her acting was not outstanding.
Verdict: The stage show is still the best thing I have ever seen live, and I would urge everyone to go see it. The film is magnificent (well it’s a Spielberg, I doubt anyone would expect anything less), but it is obvious that it is made with the intention of becoming a blockbuster hit, which somehow cheapens it.
Sad but true that “War Horse” is probably going to become more synonymous with the name “Spielberg” than “Morpurgo”, but I guess that’s what you expect if you sell your book rights to potentially the biggest director in the history of Hollywood.