War Horse (film)

War Horse is a 2011 American war drama film directed and co-produced by Steven Spielberg from a screenplay written by Lee Hall and Richard Curtis, based on Michael Morpurgo's 1982 novel of the same name and its 2007 play adaptation. The film's ensemble cast includes Jeremy Irvine (in his film acting debut), Emily Watson, David Thewlis, Tom Hiddleston, Benedict Cumberbatch, Eddie Marsan, Niels Arestrup, Toby Kebbell, David Kross, and Peter Mullan.[3][4]

War Horse
Theatrical release poster
Directed bySteven Spielberg
Produced bySteven Spielberg
Kathleen Kennedy
Screenplay byLee Hall
Richard Curtis
Based onWar Horse
by Michael Morpurgo
War Horse
by Nick Stafford
StarringEmily Watson
David Thewlis
Peter Mullan
Niels Arestrup
Jeremy Irvine
Music byJohn Williams
CinematographyJanusz Kamiński
Edited byMichael Kahn
Distributed byWalt Disney Studios
Motion Pictures
Release date
  • December 25, 2011 (2011-12-25)
Running time
146 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$66 million
Box office$177.6 million[2]

Set before and during World War I, it tells of the journey of Joey, a bay Thoroughbred horse raised by British teenager Albert (Irvine), as he is bought by the British Army, leading him to encounter numerous individuals and owners throughout Europe, all the while experiencing the tragedies of the war happening around him.

DreamWorks Pictures acquired the film rights to the novel in December 2009, with Spielberg announced to direct the film in May 2010. Having directed many films set during the Second World War, it was his first film to tackle the events of World War I. Long-term Spielberg collaborators Janusz Kamiński, Michael Kahn, Rick Carter, and John Williams all worked on the film as cinematographer, editor, production designer, and music composer, respectively.

Produced by DreamWorks Pictures and released worldwide by Touchstone Pictures, War Horse became a box-office success[2] and was met with positive reviews.[5] The film was nominated for six Academy Awards including Best Picture, two Golden Globe Awards and five BAFTAs.


In 1912, a bay Thoroughbred is born in Devon, England. At auction, farmer Ted Narracott (Peter Mullan) outbids his landlord Lyons for the colt, to the dismay of his wife Rose (Emily Watson), because the family needs a working horse that can plough the field. Their son Albert (Jeremy Irvine), accompanied by his best friend Andrew, names the colt Joey, and teaches him to come when he imitates an owl's call. The pair form a close bond. Against all odds, the horse and boy successfully plough a rocky field, saving the family's farm.

Rose shows Albert his father's medals from the Second Boer War, and gives him Ted's regimental pennant, confiding in Albert that his father carries physical and mental scars from the war.

In 1914, as war with Germany is declared, a heavy downpour ruins the family's crops, forcing Ted to sell Joey to the army. Albert is heartbroken and tries to stop the sale but is too late. Captain James Nicholls (Tom Hiddleston) sees Albert's attachment and promises to look after the steed. Albert tries to enlist but is too young, and before the company departs, he ties his father's pennant to Joey's bridle and promises the horse that he will find him.

Joey bonds with Topthorn, a black horse with whom he is trained for his military role. The horses are deployed to Flanders with a flying column under the command of Nicholls and Major Jamie Stewart (Benedict Cumberbatch). They lead a cavalry charge through a German encampment, but the unit is decimated by machine gun fire. Nicholls is killed along with almost all his fellow cavalrymen; the Germans capture the horses.

Gunther, a young German soldier, is assigned to the care of Joey and Topthorn. When his brother Michael is sent to the front line, Gunther takes the horses and the four of them desert. The German army soon tracks down the boys and they are shot for desertion; however, the Germans leave without noticing the horses. They are found by a French girl named Emilie. German soldiers arrive at her grandfather's farm, but Emilie hides the horses in her bedroom. For her birthday, Emilie's grandfather allows her to ride Joey; they run into the Germans, who confiscate the horses. Emilie's grandfather keeps the pennant.

By 1918, Albert has enlisted and is fighting alongside Andrew in the Second Battle of the Somme. After a British charge into no man's land, Albert and Andrew miraculously make it across to the German trench, where a gas bomb explodes.

The Germans use Joey and Topthorn to haul artillery, under the care of Private Henglemann. He tries to care for them as best as he can and eventually tries to free them, but Topthorn succumbs to exhaustion and dies. Joey escapes, narrowly evading an oncoming Mark IV tank, and gallops into no man's land where he becomes entangled in barbed wire. Colin, a British soldier, makes his way to Joey under a white flag and tries to free him. Peter, a German soldier, comes over with wire cutters, and together they rescue Joey and remark on the remorseless war. To decide who should take the horse, they flip a coin; Colin wins and guides the injured Joey to the British trench.

Andrew is killed by the gas attack but Albert survives, temporarily blinded. While recuperating, he hears about the "miraculous horse" rescued from no-man's land. Just as Joey is about to be put down by a doctor who deems Joey too injured to recover, he hears Albert's owl call. Albert, his eyes still bandaged, is able to describe Joey in perfect detail, and the two are reunited. The doctor decides to nurse Joey back to health.

World War I ends, and Joey is ordered to be auctioned, just like all the other warhorses. Albert's comrades raise a collection to bid for the horse as they fear he might be sold to a butcher. They seem to outbid the butcher but eventually the auction is won by Emilie's grandfather, who tells Albert that Emilie has died and the horse is all he has left of her. However, after Albert pleads with him, the old man recognizes the strength of the soldier's bond, and returns the pennant and Joey to Albert, as "Emilie would have wanted."

Albert returns with Joey to his family's farm, embracing his mother and returning the pennant to his father. The elder Narracott extends his hand to the boy, now a man and like him, a former soldier. Joey watches on, seemingly with pride.




Michael Morpurgo wrote the 1982 children's novel War Horse after meeting World War I veterans in the Devon village of Iddesleigh where he lived. One had been with the Devon Yeomanry and was involved with horses; another veteran in his village, Captain Budgett,[6] was with the cavalry and told Morpurgo how he had confided all his hopes and fears to his horse. Both told him of the horrific conditions and loss of life, human and animal, during the Great War. A third man remembered the army coming to the village to buy horses for the war effort: horses were used for cavalry and as draught animals, pulling guns, ambulances and other vehicles.

Morpurgo researched the subject further and learned that a million horses died on the British side; he extrapolated an overall figure of 10 million horse deaths on all sides. Of the million horses that were sent abroad from the U.K., only 62,000 returned, the rest dying in the war or slaughtered in France for meat. The Great War had a massive and indelible impact on the U.K.'s male population: 886,000 men died, one in eight of those who went to war, and 2% of the entire country's population.[7][8]

After observing a young boy with a stammer forming a fond relationship with and talking fluently to a horse at a farm run by Morpurgo's charity Farms for City Children, Morpurgo found a way to tell the story through the horse and its relations with the various people it meets before and during the course of the war: a young Devon farmboy, a British cavalry officer, a German soldier, and an old Frenchman and his granddaughter.[8][9]

Morpurgo tried to adapt the book into a film screenplay, working for over five years with Simon Channing-Williams, but in the end they had to admit defeat.[10] The book was successfully adapted for a stage play by Nick Stafford in 2007. To work dramatically, the story could not be told solely through the horse's viewpoint (as it was in the book), and so the film version with a screenplay by Richard Curtis and Lee Hall is based on the narrative approach of the stage play more than that of the book. Unlike the play, which used puppet horses, the film uses a combination of real horses, animatronic horses and computer-generated imagery.[11][12][13]


"I won't kid you, it was more money [for the film rights] than I've ever been paid for anything I've ever written. But that wasn't the temptation. The temptation was the chance for an iconic film about the First World War, perhaps as great as All Quiet on the Western Front with its overpowering sense of waste."

Michael Morpurgo[14]

From 2006–2009, Morpurgo, Lee Hall and Revel Guest worked on a proposed film version of War Horse, which Morpurgo and Hall would write and Guest produce. Lack of finances meant that it was an informal arrangement, with the film rights not formally sold by Morpurgo to Guest's production company and no one being paid for the work they undertook.[15][16] In 2009, film producer Kathleen Kennedy saw the critically acclaimed production of War Horse in London's West End with her husband, fellow producer Frank Marshall and their two daughters. They were very impressed by the story and Marshall has recalled how he was amazed that no one had already bought the film rights to the book.[17][18]

Steven Spielberg was told about War Horse by several people, including Kennedy, who was his colleague at Amblin Entertainment.[18][19][20] After discussions with Revel Guest, it was announced on 16 December 2009 that DreamWorks had acquired the film rights to the book, with Spielberg stating: "From the moment I read Michael Morpurgo's novel War Horse, I knew this was a film I wanted DreamWorks to make … Its heart and its message provide a story that can be felt in every country."[21][22]

Spielberg saw the London production of the play on 1 February 2010 and met some of the cast afterwards.[23][24][25] He admitted to being moved to tears by the performance.[26]

Hall commented that "Weirdly the week that we finished it [the screenplay], Spielberg expressed an interest, we sent him the script, and within a couple of weeks he'd decided he was going to make the film—it was one of those situations that never happens in the world of film."[27]

DreamWorks executive Stacey Snider suggested Richard Curtis to work on rewrites for the screenplay: she had worked with Curtis during her time at Universal Studios, and Curtis had previously written the World War I-set BBC comedy television series Blackadder Goes Forth along with Ben Elton which meant he was already familiar with the period. Spielberg was a fan of Blackadder but had never met Curtis.[28] Curtis was initially reluctant to take part, but on meeting Spielberg they got on so well that Curtis rethought and committed to work on the script.[28] Curtis has stated that the screenplay is closer to the book than the play, and that 'the existence of the play itself helped him "be brave" about his own adaptation.'[29] Curtis produced more than a dozen drafts in three months,[30] and has spoken of the close collaboration he had with Spielberg while working on the script.[31][32]

Having previously only been slated to produce the film, Spielberg decided to direct "the second I read [Curtis's] first draft. It happened faster than anything else we've [Spielberg and Snider] done together."[27][33] It was announced that Spielberg was to direct the film on 3 May 2010;[34] the cast was announced on 17 June 2010.[3] Speaking at the Tribeca Film Festival in April 2011, actor Peter Mullan said that he took the part not just because Spielberg was directing, but also because of the 'beautiful script, really nice script'.[35]

According to an account of the book, play and film's development by Michael Morpurgo, within weeks of hearing from Kennedy about the London theatre production, Spielberg had "seen the play, met the cast, visited the Imperial War Museum and decided this would be his next film. In the weeks that followed he worked with Lee Hall and Richard Curtis on the script, and within months the film was being made". Spielberg was able to act so quickly because he was on a hiatus, waiting for the animation on his other 2011-released film, The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, to be completed.[30]

Spielberg has directed six films with World War II themes (1941, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Empire of the Sun, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Schindler's List, and Saving Private Ryan), and has produced two others, Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima, as well as producing two major television miniseries set during this period, Band of Brothers and The Pacific. In contrast, War Horse is Spielberg's first foray into World War I storytelling,[36] as Spielberg admitted that prior to learning about the War Horse book and play "I had never been that interested in World War I".[20] Kathleen Kennedy elaborated on the appeal of the story: "In cinema we've told very few stories about World War I and I think that's one of the things that attracted us to this … It's a forgotten war in the United States, and that had a very powerful effect on Steven and I [sic]."[37]

Dr. David Kenyon and Andrew Robertshaw of Battlefield Partnerships were military advisors on the film.[38][39][40][41]


After some speculation, the cast for War Horse was announced on 17 June 2010.[3] It had been rumoured in the previous week that Eddie Redmayne had been cast in the lead part as Albert Narracott;[42] however, relatively unknown stage actor Jeremy Irvine was chosen instead. Spielberg commented after seeing hundreds of young boys reading for the role, Irvine had come in and done a cold reading and that "his performance was very natural, very authentic."[20] Irvine auditioned for two months, going in two or three times a week, and learned that he had the part when he was asked to read a piece of War Horse script on camera in order to check his West Country accent, and the piece of mocked-up script that he read out was Albert telling Joey that Steven Spielberg wanted him to play the part.[43]

The cast is European,[44] with British, French and German actors playing characters of their respective nationalities.[45] Robert Emms, who played the lead of Albert Narracott in the West End production of the play, was cast as David Lyons.[46]

Casting for extras took place in Devon in late July 2010.[47] In all, some 5,800 extras were used in the film.[30] The granddaughter of Captain Budgett, one of the World War I veterans who had inspired Morpurgo to write the story, acted as an extra in scenes filmed in Castle Combe,[48] and Morpurgo himself filmed a cameo role there, along with his wife Clare.[49][50][51]



Spielberg films are renowned for the levels of secrecy and security during filming, and this was no exception: filming took place under the codename Dartmoor.[47][52] The filming period took 'about 64 days' in total.[53]

Filming of War Horse began with the cavalry scenes being filmed at Stratfield Saye House in north Hampshire, the estate of the Duke of Wellington, where incidentally Wellington's war horse Copenhagen is buried. Here a cavalry charge involving 130 extras was filmed.[54]

Filming on location on Dartmoor, Devon started in August 2010.[55][56] Initially, Spielberg was only going to have four or five days' worth of second unit material shot in Devon, but after Kathleen Kennedy sent him photographs of the various locations she had scouted, he decided to cut other elements of the story to enable more filming to take place in countryside that Kennedy described as "so extraordinarily beautiful and absolutely perfect for the story".[57] Dartmoor locations included the small villages of Meavy and Sheepstor, Burrator Reservoir, Bonehill Rocks and surrounding area near Widecombe-in-the-Moor, Ringmoor Down, Combestone Tor and surrounding area, Haytor, Hexworthy Bridge and Cadover Bridge/Brisworthy.[58][59] Ditsworthy Warren House, an isolated Grade II listed building near Sheepstor on Dartmoor served as the Narracott family's farmhouse, and many scenes were filmed in the surrounding area.[58][60][61]

On 11 September 2010, the annual Dartmoor Yomp was re-routed to allow filming to continue undisturbed.[62] Spielberg praised the Dartmoor countryside's beauty: "I have never before, in my long and eclectic career, been gifted with such an abundance of natural beauty as I experienced filming War Horse on Dartmoor… And, with two-and-a-half weeks of extensive coverage of landscapes and skies, I hardly scratched the surface of the visual opportunities that were offered to me."[63] Spielberg felt that the landscape was very much a character in the film.[64]

Although Devon rural locations were used, scenes in the main village in the story were filmed at the Wiltshire village of Castle Combe near Chippenham, despite the vernacular architecture of Devon (predominantly cob walls and thatched roofs) being very different from that of Wiltshire (stone walls and stone tiled roofs). Filming began there on 21 September 2010 and continued until 1 October 2010.[65][66][67][68] Some residents of Castle Combe were angered by the imposition of tightened security within the village, claiming they could not enter the village without waiting at perimeter barriers until breaks in filming.[69]

After Castle Combe, the production moved on to Wisley Airfield in Surrey, where no man's land battlefield scenes were filmed.[28][52][70][71] Shooting of wartime camp scenes also took place for about two weeks from 4 October 2010 at Bourne Wood near Farnham in Surrey, a frequent location for filming.[52][72][73][74] On 13–14 October 2010, scenes were shot at the stately home Luton Hoo.[75] Filming was also scheduled to be undertaken at Caerwent in Wales.[76] Studio filming was undertaken at Longcross Studios, Chertsey in Surrey[73] and at Twickenham Film Studios.[77] The film shoot was completed in the last week of October 2010,[30] with the entire film, French scenes included, being shot in the U.K., apart from some pick-up shots of a bay foal filmed in March 2011 in California.

"The Michael Morpurgo book is ‘Black Beauty goes to war’. So if you’re English, two of the most emotive subjects you could touch on are Black Beauty and the First World War. The crew were constantly in tears, as there were war memorials and everybody had a story in their family ... for English people, everyone is touched by that war."

–Emily Watson on World War I's enduring emotional legacy.[78]

Michael Morpurgo, the author of the book on which the film is based, visited the set several times while filming was being undertaken: "Spielberg's a wonderful storyteller and a kid. He adores stories and that's what he's best at. It's extraordinary to meet someone with that kind of enthusiasm, utterly unspoiled … When I went to visit him on set, he was clearly enthralled by the countryside. He fell for Devon in a big way. He was warm, kind and open, and utterly without ego … Spielberg was like a conductor with a very light baton. He hardly had to wave it at all. I was in awe."[71] Emily Watson also praised Spielberg's approach: "It was intimate, passionate and about the acting. And every single priority that as an actor that you would want to be there was there. It felt very real and focused."[78] On set, he'd come in, in the morning, and say, 'I couldn't sleep last night. I was worrying about this shot!' Which was great! He's human and he's still working in an impassioned way, like a 21-year-old, trying to make the best out of everything."[79]

When actor Peter Mullan won the award for Best Film at the San Sebastián International Film Festival in Spain for Neds, the film he wrote, directed and in which he acted, Spielberg insisted that Mullan should attend the ceremony on 26 September 2010 to accept his award in person, and re-arranged the War Horse shooting schedule accordingly.[80][81]

Spielberg commented on how he and cinematographer Janusz Kamiński developed the 'look' of the film: "…it doesn't feel like Ryan at all … it has a much more daguerrotype feel, much more brownish. We're not using any of the techniques we used on Ryan. The only similarity is that it is war and it is handheld."[28]

Filming locations

The horses

"When I'm on an Indy movie, I'm watching Indiana Jones, not the horse he is riding ... Suddenly I'm faced with the challenge of making a movie where I not only had to watch the horse, I had to compel the audience to watch it along with me. I had to pay attention to what it was doing and understand its feelings. It was a whole new experience for me."

–Steven Spielberg[28]

The pre-production period only allowed for three months to train the horses before shooting commenced.[83] The main horse trainer was Bobby Lovgren,[83] and other horse trainers included Dylan Jones, Bill Lawrence,[84][85] and Zelie Bullen.[86][87]

During filming, fourteen different horses were used as the main horse character Joey, eight of them portraying him as an adult animal, four as a colt and two as a foal;[84] four horses played the other main equine character, Topthorn.[83] Up to 280 horses were used in a single scene.[30] A farrier was on set to replace horseshoes sucked off in the mud during filming, and the horses playing the main horse characters had a specialist equine make-up team, with their coats dyed and markings added to ensure continuity. Equine artist Ali Bannister was responsible for the 'hair and make-up' of the horses, as well as drawing the sketches of horses that are featured in the film.[88] Extra filming involving a bay foal took place in California in March 2011.[13] Working with horses on this scale was a new experience for Spielberg, who commented: "The horses were an extraordinary experience for me, because several members of my family ride. I was really amazed at how expressive horses are and how much they can show what they're feeling."[11]

Representatives of the American Humane Association were on set at all times, and the Association awarded the film an "outstanding" rating for the care that was taken of all the animals during the production.[89] However, a 2013 suit by former AHA employee Barbara Casey alleges that a horse was killed on set, but the organisation chose to "cover-up the death" to protect Spielberg's reputation.[90] An animatronic horse was used for some parts of the scenes where Joey is trapped in barbed wire;[91] the wire was rubber prop wire.[89]


Film editor Michael Kahn spoke of his work on the film: "We have some shots in War Horse that are just fantastic … We shot it in Devon, and you know it's gorgeous down there, and the horses are beautiful and the farms are beautiful, beautiful scenery and every shot is gorgeous, and eventually you get to the war part of it and it's really, really something." Kahn had a trailer on set and edited the film during filming.[92] Kahn and Spielberg cut the film digitally on an Avid, rather than on film, a first time with this technology for Spielberg: "He decided that he'd like to try it", Kahn commented.[93][94]

After filming, further editing was undertaken at the U.K.'s Twickenham Film Studios, with the production moving back to the U.S. in November 2010.[77] Kahn also said of his work on the film: "We put together here in Hollywood. It worked well … Those English actors are awfully good and so were the horses. The horses were beautifully trained. For an editor there were a lot of match [frame] problems with the horses but the shooting was so good that I got everything I needed."[12]

The film score by John Williams was recorded in late March and early April 2011.[92] Tuba player Jim Self reported in May 2011: "For John Williams I [sic] recently finished recording for the film War Horse. It's a war movie so the score has a lot of brass—but it was gentle music often."[95] English folk singer John Tams, who wrote the songs for the stage production of War Horse, was approached by Spielberg and Williams about including one of his songs from the stageshow in the film.[49][96] In the liner notes to the film soundtrack CD, Spielberg wrote "I feel that John has made a special gift to me of this music, which was inspired not only by my film but also by many of the picturesque settings of the poet William Wordsworth, whose vivid descriptions of the British landscape inspired much of what you are going to hear."[97] In the premiere of three of the tracks on New York radio station WQXR's "Movies on the Radio", broadcaster David Garland drew parallels with the work of British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams.[98]

Visual effects for the film were undertaken by London-based company Framestore.[99] According to Spielberg, the film's only digital effects are three shots lasting three seconds, which were undertaken to ensure the safety of the horse involved: "That's the thing I'm most proud of. Everything you see on screen really happened."[26] Kathleen Kennedy elaborated, stating "We really did it very naturalistically. There isn't a lot of blood. Steven wasn't interested in bringing Private Ryan into it, but we did want to make a PG-13 movie."[19] Actor Tom Hiddleston said of the film that Spielberg had "seen the stage play and he wanted to retain the magic and heartbeat of that … It's a moving, powerful story you can take children to see, but it is still very upsetting … People die, and it is war."[100]


John Williams composed and conducted the film's musical score, the second score composed the same year by Williams for Spielberg after The Adventures of Tintin.[101] Williams took inspiration by visiting a horse farm in California and observing horses and their behavior, elaborating that "I got in the habit of watching the horses in the morning, and I began to see how they connect to each other and how they became curious about me. That's when I really began to get the sense that horses are very special creatures. They have been magnificent and trusted friends for such a long time and have done so much for us with such grace."[102] Williams was also influenced by the geographic scope of the film's story. In regard to that approach, Williams stated; "This was a very rich opportunity musically because it is both about humans and animals and it takes place in three different countries. It starts out in a more intimate way, on the farm with the bonding of Joey and Albert. Then, the eruption of war changes the scale, and the music does a 180-degree turn. From this bucolic, gentle, even sentimental music, you move into the music of battle surges and gripping struggles. It's a musical journey full of dimension and emotional content, and I tried also to create an atmosphere reflective of that period, which was lyrical, poetic and tragic."[102] The score was recorded by a 90-piece orchestra, with Williams comparing the recording sessions more to a concert piece rather than a traditional film score, as it relied more on the individual performance of the musicians.[102]

War Horse (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
Film score by
ReleasedNovember 18, 2011
StudioSony Pictures Studios
LabelSony Classical
ProducerJohn Williams
John Williams film scores chronology
The Adventures of Tintin
War Horse (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

All music is composed by John Williams.

1."Dartmoor, 1912"3:35
2."The Auction"3:34
3."To Giant Country"4:42
4."Bringing Joey Home, and Bonding"3:20
5."Seeding, and Horse vs. Car"3:33
7."Ruined Crop, and Going to War"3:29
8."The Charge and Capture"3:21
9."The Desertion"2:33
10."Joey's New Friends"3:30
11."Pulling the Cannon"4:11
12."The Death of Topthorn"2:45
13."No Man's Land"4:35
14."The Reunion"3:55
15."Remembering Emilie, and Finale"5:07
16."The Homecoming"8:06
Total length:65:26


"To round out the year, Steven Spielberg's War Horse appears in time for the festive period. If you're thinking that nothing says Christmas like the bloody trench warfare carnage, you may be in luck. But while Spielberg isn't one to sugarcoat the horrors of war, he's just the director to fill this Great War-set story of a boy and his horse with saddlebags of heart and soul. We can't wait to see how he's brought the colossally popular stage play to the big screen."

Empire magazine[103]

War Horse was released in North America by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures through its Touchstone Pictures label on December 25, 2011.[104][105] The film marked the first Spielberg-directed film to be distributed by Walt Disney Studios. The release date for America was originally set for 10 August 2011, but after a meeting in London in early October 2010 between DreamWorks and Disney executives, when some footage was screened, the decision was taken to move its release to 28 December 2011 in the holiday period,[106] and in the U.K. on 13 January 2012.[107] DreamWorks executive Stacey Snider said: "The reaction to the footage—which he [Spielberg] usually never shows—was that it feels like a big, holiday movie … It just became inevitable that we would move it. (Spielberg) feels great about it."[106] In late September 2011, Disney moved the release date again, to Christmas Day 2011.

Only a very few unofficial on-set photographs and clips of video footage were published in the press and online during the filming period. Due to the usual embargo on photographs and videos being taken and made public during Spielberg shoots, very few photographs emerged, with the majority being snatched paparazzi shots. In October 2010 Spielberg's cinematographer on the film, Janusz Kamiński, put an on-set photograph of himself on a battlefield set on his Facebook page.[108] The first ten official photographs were made public by DreamWorks in several releases between 11 and 14 March 2011, in Empire magazine, in an article in the Daily Mail and in an article in Entertainment Weekly.[109] On 16 March 2011 a British blogger published an account of her unofficial visit to the War Horse set at Ditsworthy Warren House, and despite the security on-set, was able to take photographs of the set's interior and of Steven Spielberg.[110] On 29 March 2011, DreamWorks presented behind-the-scenes footage, introduced on film by Spielberg, to theatre owners at CinemaCon in Las Vegas. Spielberg was unable to attend in person as he was still working on the film's post-production.[111]

On 29 June 2011, the film's first official teaser trailer was released, and the official website was launched.[112][113] On its launch, the website was rather a sparse affair, with just the official trailer and synopsis, and only two of the ten previously-released official photographs. Further footage, introduced on film by Spielberg, was shown at the Empire magazine 'Big Screen' event in London in August 2011.[114] Jeremy Irvine talked about his experiences making the film at the same event.[43] The full theatrical trailer was released on 4 October 2011,[115][116] and more on-set photographs were released on 17 November 2011.[117]

"The film feels like a Christmas present, [Morpurgo] says—one he desperately wants to open but isn't allowed to yet. If that sounds almost childlike, so does the quality of his anticipation: 'I know I've built up my hopes considerably ... I want it to live on and on in people's minds'."

New Statesman magazine[118]

The publicity strategy for War Horse unusually featured preview screenings for the public in U.S. heartland areas before either the critics were shown the film or it was screened to the public in major metropolitan areas. The first preview screenings of War Horse were held at various locations across the U.S. on 1, 2 and 10 November 2011.[119][120] Military veterans in Canada were invited to seven different screenings on 16 November, in honour of Remembrance Day, five days earlier.[121] More preview screenings in the U.S. took place on 27 November, with Spielberg attending a question and answer session at the New York screening that was beamed to the other screening cinemas and shown live on the internet.[122][123]

Press screenings for critics were first held in New York and Los Angeles on Thanksgiving Day, 24 November 2011, although there was an embargo on official reviews being published at that time.[124] On 27 November, there was a special screening in London for the crew and cast, the first time anyone involved with the film (apart from Spielberg and his close collaborators) had seen it.[125] Three television advertisements for the film were released in the U.S. on Thanksgiving Day, 24 November 2011,[126] shortly followed by others.[127][128]

The film's world premiere was held on Sunday 4 December at the Avery Fisher Hall of New York City's Lincoln Center, where the Tony award-winning Broadway production of War Horse was playing in the neighbouring Vivian Beaumont Theater. The U.K. premiere took place in London's Leicester Square on 8 January 2012, and was attended by Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge.[129]

A tie-in book by Steven Spielberg, titled War Horse, was published by Harper Collins on 27 December 2011.[130]

The horse portrait painted by Ali Bannister now hangs in the Iddesleigh Town Hall in the approximate location described in the introduction to Morpurgo's novel:

In the old school they use now for the Village Hall, below the clock that has stood always at one minute past ten, hangs a small dusty painting of a horse. He stands, a splendid red bay with a remarkable white cross emblazoned on his forehead and with four perfectly matched white socks. He looks wistfully out of the picture, his ears pricked forward, his head turned as if he has just noticed us standing there.

To many who glance up at it casually, as they might do when the hall is opened up for Parish meetings, for harvest suppers or evening socials, it is merely a tarnished old oil painting of some unknown horse by a competent but anonymous artist. To them the picture is so familiar that it commands little attention. But those who look more closely will see, written in fading black copperplate writing across the bottom of the bronze frame:
Painted by Captain James Nicholls, autumn 1914.

Some in the village, only a very few now and fewer as each year goes by, remember Joey as he was. His story is written so that neither he nor those who knew him nor the war they lived and died in, will be forgotten. (1-2)

Bannister's commissioned portrait was hung in the Iddesleigh Town Hall in part response to the reported tourists who had previously sought out the (fictional) portrait.[131]

Home media

War Horse was released on Blu-ray Disc, DVD, and digital download on 3 April 2012 from Touchstone Home Entertainment. The release was produced in three different physical packages: a 4-disc combo pack (2-disc Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital Copy); a 2-disc combo pack (Blu-ray and DVD); and a 1-disc DVD. The film was released digitally through on-demand services such as the "iTunes Store" in high and standard definitions.[132] The 1-disc DVD includes the bonus feature "'War Horse': The Look" and the digital versions come with "An Extra's Point of View." The 2-disc combo pack includes "'War Horse': The Look" and "An Extra's Point of View" bonus features. The 4-disc combo pack comes with the same extras as the 2-disc combo pack, as well as "A Filmmaking Journey," "Editing & Scoring," "The Sounds of 'War Horse,'" and "Through the Producer's Lens" bonus features.[133]


Critical response

Based on 235 reviews collected by Rotten Tomatoes, War Horse has a 75% approval rating from critics with an average score of 7.01/10. The site's critical consensus is "Technically superb, proudly sentimental, and unabashedly old-fashioned, War Horse is an emotional drama that tugs the heartstrings with Spielberg's customary flair."[5] Metacritic reports a score of 72/100 based on 40 critics, indicating "Generally favorable reviews".[134]

Although there was an embargo on official reviews of the film being published before 21 December 2011,[135] reviews started appearing from 26 November 2011 onwards in mainstream press such as The Daily Telegraph, which gave it 4½ out of 5 stars.[136]

Giving the film an A- grade, Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly wrote, "The project is tailor-made for Saving Private Ryan Spielberg, the war-story specialist, as well as for E.T. Spielberg, the chronicler of boyhood desires and yearnings for family."[137] Rex Reed of The New York Observer gave the film 4 out of 4 stars and said, "War Horse is a don't-miss Spielberg classic that reaches true perfection. It's as good as movies can get, and one of the greatest triumphs of this or any other year."[138]

Roger Ebert gave the film 3.5 out of 4 stars, saying the film contained "surely some of the best footage Spielberg has ever directed". He wrote, "The film is made with superb artistry. Spielberg is the master of an awesome canvas. Most people will enjoy it, as I did." [139] Richard Roeper praised War Horse by saying, "What a gorgeous, breathtaking, epic adventure this is." He gave the film 4.5 out of 5 stars.[140] Ty Burr of The Boston Globe said that the film was a work of full-throated Hollywood classicism that looks back to the craftsmanship and sentimentality of John Ford and other legends of the studio era. He gave it 3 out of 4 stars.[141]

The film also made many critics' top film lists of 2011. Richard Corliss of Time named it 2011's fifth-best film, saying "Boldly emotional, nakedly heartfelt, War Horse will leave only the stoniest hearts untouched".[142] David Chen of /Film selected War Horse as 2011's best film.[143]

In The Guardian, Simon Winder wrote that the film, "despite twisting and turning to be even-handed, simply could not help itself and, like some faux-reformed alcoholic, gorged itself on an entire miniature liqueur selection of Anglo-German clichés".[144] David Denby of The New Yorker wrote about the film that "The horses themselves are magnificent, and maybe that's reason enough to see the movie. But War Horse is a bland, bizarrely unimaginative piece of work".[145]

The soundtrack recording by John Williams received a Sammy Award for Best New Film Score CD.[146]

Box office

War Horse grossed $79,859,441 domestically and $97,200,000 overseas, for a worldwide total of $177,584,879. Although not one of Spielberg's biggest box office successes, it was the highest-grossing World War I film of all time until Wonder Woman, six years later.[2]


See also


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