Just recently seen the film War Horse which I have to say without having kids who love Michael Morpurgo it was unlikely I would have gone along to see it. However I’m glad that I did as it’s a stunningly filmed real family epic but of course with Speilberg at the helm you should perhaps expect nothing less. I’ve not read the book but my kids did complain that some artistic liberty had been taken and the film did not follow the book entirely which of course led to some interesting discussion on why this might be as they start to develop their critical faculties. From my point of view it’s one of those films that you just have to go along with and if you are prepared to do so then you will be in for a treat, I could be incredibly harsh and say that in some ways it’s a bit Lassie Come Home but that would be unfair. Two things that sustained it for me was firstly the cinematography, which from the opening scenes of the lush fields of rural pre WW1 Devon through to the trenches provide a rich and vivid tapestry that from a purely visual perspective would carry the film. Secondly, just as when the book club reviewed Shadow, Morpurgo can craft a fantastic story cleverly using the travails and journeys of the horse to investigate a whole host of issues, many of which the adults will of course be aware of but for children becoming aware of history it’s a great template.
So the film covers issues of tenant farmers and their relationships to the landowners and how hard and tenuous their grip on survival was; family relationships and the secrets that we might keep from our children and how that can affect a family; loyalty and what that may mean in many forms; WW1 – and brilliantly this looks at the arrogance of the British Officer class, how children became caught up in the conflict on all sides, the similarities of the men in the trenches, the affect on French civilians, how both sides contained good and bad, how terrifying trench warfare was and the randomness of conflict and of course death and loss and the affect this can have. These are fantastically big and important themes that opened up a whole world of discussion and interest in my kids.
There are a couple of scenes that remind me of the opening to Saving Private Ryan which for me is still one of the most incredible powerful and visceral bits of movie making I’ve seen. Speilberg manages to bring a semblance of that to War Horse but of course without the bloodshed that you encounter in the Private Ryan film. So overall I was glad that I went to see it, both from my own point of view and that of the kids, it’s powerful cinema and there was not a dry eye in the house while watching it including me.