The subject of war seems to bring the best from Steven Spielberg, as Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan and now this impressive venture set during 1914 –‘18 all underline. It’s based on the much-loved children’s novel by Michael Morpurgo, which recently became a phenomenon on stage, but the Spielberg approach to War Horse is one of Hollywood classicism, recreating the Somme on an imposing scale and putting very real horses centre stage. As the story parts plucky mount Joey and the Devon farm boy who’s soulfully attached to him, an odyssey begins which takes in both sides of the conflict, the central steed bringing out the best and worst in human behaviour.
As such, the film resonates (perhaps surprisingly) with Au hasard Balthazar, Robert Bresson’s classic about a mistreated donkey. The subject matter is emotive enough, but it’s Spielberg’s searing images which make the most potent impression, notably the sight of the free-running horse tangled in barbed wire, an unforgettable indictment of senseless suffering inflicted on the innocent. (Notes by Trevor Johnston.)
A number of of Steven Spielberg’s earlier films are also showing in this programme. See CATHEDRALS OF EMOTIONS: STEVEN SPIELBERG Season.