Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. USA, 2011. DreamWorks, Reliance Entertainment, Amblin Entertainment, The Kennedy/Marshall Company. Screenplay by Lee Hall, Richard Curtis, based on the stage play by Nick Stafford, and the novel by Michael Morpurgo. Cinematography by Janusz Kaminski. Produced by Kathleen Kennedy, Steven Spielberg. Music by John Williams. Production Design by Rick Carter. Costume Design by Joanna Johnston. Film Editing by Michael Kahn. Academy Awards 2011. American Film Institute 2011. Golden Globe Awards 2011. Washington Film Critics Awards 2011.
They don’t make ‘em like they used to, but god bless ‘em for trying. Steven Spielberg adapts Michael Morpurgo’s novel and play into a wholly enjoyable, classic piece of schmaltz about a boy and his equine companion. Dad Peter Mullan brings home a gorgeous steed to his poor farmstead and infuriates mom Emily Watson, who reminds him that they need a plough horse for their work and not a thoroughbred. Son Jeremy Irvine, in a wonderful debut, insists that they keep the horse and that he will teach it to till a field. He does, but then war breaks out in 1914 Europe and, while the family stays put on their few acres of English land which they are in danger of losing to their evil landlord (David Thewlis, Spielberg is often a failure at moral grey areas), the horse goes on a series of adventures across the continent. He is ridden by an officer (the wonderful Tom Hiddleston) into battle, taken in by an old man (Niels Arestrup) and his granddaughter, who I’m assuming are Dutch because they live in a windmill, then later finds his way into No Man’s Land, where he gets everyone’s attention by running into barbed wire. The whole time, this horse is being sought after by his young master who follows him onto the field in the hopes of finding him; women everywhere are wondering why they cannot get men to go this distance for them, and now we know why. Imagine Au Hasard Balthazar directed by Clarence Brown and you have an idea of what’s happening here; it is sentimentality of the highest degree, but it revels in its stickiness with such unapologetic fervor that it creates a healthy feeling of sweet nostalgia instead of the treacle that it could have been. Spielberg films England like it was something in a storybook, but gives it gravity with the terrific performances and exquisite photography by Janusz Kaminski.