War Horse Movie Review – feel good story with lush production and authentic locations

Albert Narracott (Jeremy Irvine) with Joey in War Horse movie, DreamWorks photo
Albert Narracott (Jeremy Irvine) with Joey in War Horse movie, DreamWorks photo


by Jane Louise Boursaw

Reel Rating: 4 out of 5 Reels

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of war violence

Released in Theaters: Dec. 25, 2011

Genre: War, Drama, Family

Runtime: 146 minutes

Directed by: Steven Spielberg

Cast: Jeremy Irvine, Peter Mullan, Emily Watson, Niels Arestrup, David Thewlis, Tom Hiddleston, Benedict Cumberbatch, Celine Buckens

Official Site: War Horse

If you’ve seen enough Steven Spielberg movies, you can almost spot one at a glance. Lush production with authentic locations, attention to the smallest detail, gorgeous cinematography by longtime collaborator Janusz Kaminski, epic score by John Williams, well-cast actors and believable dialogue. War Horse has all that and more, set against the backdrop of World War I in rural England.

Based on a 1982 children’s novel by Michael Morpurgo and a 2007 stage adaptation, the story begins with English teenager Albert Narracott (Jeremy Irvine) watching the birth of a beautiful colt near his rural farm. Despite his best efforts to get the colt to warm up to him, it doesn’t happen, and the young horse is sent off to auction.

Albert Narracott (Jeremy Irvine) with his mother Rose and horse Joey in the background.
Albert Narracott (Jeremy Irvine) with his mother Rose and horse Joey in the background.

Young Thoroughbred purchased at auction

Cut to the auction site, and Albert’s father Ted (Peter Mullan) gets caught up in a bidding war against his curmudgeonly landlord Mr. Lyons (David Thewlis). Even though what Ted really needs is a sturdy plow horse, he ends up using the family’s rent money to outbid Lyons on the young Thoroughbred, much to the chagrin of his long-suffering wife Rose (Emily Watson).

But Albert is thrilled and agrees to train “Joey” to pull a farm plow so the family can plant turnips and pay the rent after the fall harvest. But when a rainstorm damages the crop, Ted is forced to do the unthinkable – go behind Albert’s back and sell Joey to a cavalry officer, Captain Nicholls (Tom Hiddleston), who promises to look after the horse and, if possible, return him to Albert’s care after the war.

In the movie War Horse, Joey's journey puts him in the care of a French farm girl
In the movie War Horse, Joey’s journey puts him in the care of a French farm girl

Joey’s journey takes unexpected turns in War Horse

But Joey’s journey takes some unexpected turns, as we follow him through a misguided battle, on the run with two young German soldiers, in the care of a French farm girl, pulling heavy artillery up a hill for the German army, and smack in the middle of a battlefield in 1918, where a small moment in the midst of war gives hope that perhaps two opposing armies can work together.

Spielberg doesn’t gloss over the horrors of war. We see muddy battlefields strewn with dead humans and horses, a German gas attack that takes soldiers by surprise, and horses that are shot after they collapse from exhaustion. It’s hard to watch, and I don’t recommend it for kids younger than 14 or anyone who gets squeamish about war scenes and brutality against animals.

On the plus side, the story offers some insight on the horrors of war during a time when kids had to work hard to help the family hang on to their homes and farms. No kicking back with video games for THESE kids. The horse in War Horse may get people to the theater, but the movie teaches us about life during wartime in rural England and France.

I love how the story follows Joey’s journey through several people, but circles back around to Albert, who enlists in the army as soon as he’s old enough, with the hope that he’ll find his beloved horse again. Both Joey and Albert are noble, brave and don’t shirk from their duties and responsibilities.

And even though I usually weep profusely during movies like this, I didn’t with War Horse. I think it’s because it’s a feel-good story that’s predictable enough that I knew things would turn out well for our heroes. It’s not a movie I need to see again right away, but I’m glad I saw it the first time.


One Reel – Even the Force can’t save it.

Two Reels – Coulda been a contender

Three Reels – Something to talk about.

Four Reels – You want the truth? Great flick!

Five Reels – Wow! The stuff dreams are made of.

Jane Boursaw is a family entertainment writer specializing in movies and TV. Visit her at Reel Life With Jane; follow her on Twitter; become a friend on Facebook; email jboursaw@charter.net.

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