At its core, War Horse is about the bond between a boy and his horse

War Horse

DIRECTORS: Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris

CAST: Gareth Aled, Nigel Allen, Antony Antunes, Derek Arnold, Alex Avery, Oliver Beamish, Richard Booth, Alistair Brammer, Ashleigh Cheadle, Eke Chukwu


RUNNING TIME: 170 minutes

RATING: 4 stars (out of 5)

Theresa Smith

THIS FILMED version of the War Horse stage production is almost as magical an experience as watching it for real in a theatre. It is less of a treacly old-fashioned experience than the 2011 Steven Spielberg screen version, but still emotionally affecting.

Captured from the audience perspective – but with the added bonus of some close-ups and great sound – this is a bonus for anyone who wants to know what the fuss about the stage show is all about.

Filmed on February 27 at the New London Theatre, it is almost three hours of meticulous stage craft that will have you believing horses are galloping on stage and railing against the senselessness of war.

Based on the novel by Michael Morpurgo, the story was been adapted for the stage by Nick Stafford in association with the South African-based, award-winning Handspring Puppet Company.

The puppets – and decidedly the horse Joey – really steal the show here. The plot is furthered through the dialogue between the people, but this is Joey’s story as much as it is a story about a boy and his horse.

Albert Narracott (Sion Daniel Young) is tasked by his father to raised the colt Joey in the halcyon days of England, circa 1912, pre-World War I. When his father sells the horse to the cavalry at the start of the war, Albert follows and in between trying to survive the trenches he tries desperately to find his beloved horse.

The stage play opens with Captain Nicholls (Alex Avery) sketching Albert and Joey playing on the heath, and the suggestion of a torn strip from his sketchbook becomes a backdrop for video projection. A clever visual aid that helps to create the background.

During the preview screening the projectionist managed to cut off quite a bit of this backdrop, somehow managing to screen the film at the incorrect aspect ratio.

But having seen the real stage play, I know this video projection does a lot to create the various settings, from the open country-side of Devon to the scary hell of artillery tanks and barbed wire of the war front.

The first act of the Devon countryside is bathed in soft golden light, which contrasts with the harsh blue lightings and strobe flashes of the war-torn French countryside. There’s also a singer, more apparent in the first half than the second, who helps with atmosphere, opening up with a folk song, with the chorus “only remembered for what we’ve done,” which is repeated again at the end.

While you see the audience right at the beginning, the dynamic camera work takes you close to the stage action from the moment the foal first curiously investigates his surroundings and keeps you following the story right until the end.

The film has not been classified by the Film Publication Board but the stage production is judged by the National Theatre to be unsuitable for children younger than 10.

War Horse screens on April 12, 16, 17, 19, 23 and 24 at 7.30pm and April 13 and 20 at 2.30pm at Cinema Nouveau Theatres in Cape Town, Joburg, Pretoria and Durban plus Ster Kinekor Blue Route Mall.