But War Horse is “not a war film”, according to the legendary director.
Speaking at a press conference hosted by Claridge’s, Spielberg explained that the story about a young boy who takes the search for his estranged horse to the front line of World War 1, is essentially “a love story, and that makes it universal.
“It was that way in the book, it was certainly that way on the boards, in the West End, and that is what we have tried to do with our adaptation of War Horse.”
Spielberg went on to explain that he sees the film’s four-legged lead, Joey, as a metaphor for “common sense” which can help individuals to triumph in the face of despair. A fact which we poor, recession-hit citizens of the world should take on board. “Hope”, he said, “is the key to surviving any time of personal or communal disaster”.
Author Michael Morpurgo was keen to echo Spielberg’s sentiment, speaking of the story, which he penned almost 30 years ago, as, “a story about friendship and reconciliation…and as one theatre-goers said, “an anthem to peace””.
Unlike some of Spielberg’s previous war epics (Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan) the movie contains almost no blood at all. Given the number of barbed-wire strewn battlefields and full-throttle cavalry charges it contains, this is somewhat surprising. The focus is, instead, firmly set upon stunning skylines (otherwise found only in Hovis adverts) and the heartfelt exchanges between one boy and his horse. A fact which author Morpurgo seemed pleased about: “We know about the body parts but we don’t need to see all that. It doesn’t make us any more sad about what happened.”
Speaking of the spectacular setting, Spielberg gushed about the presence of a silent extra who was central to the cinematic success of his“first British film”: Devon.
“Castle Combe looks like Hollywood built it. I t doesn’t look real but it’s very authentic and very old. We couldn’t believe it.
“The original script didn’t have the budget for us to go to Devon but we stretched the budget a bit so we could afford to go there and it was worth every penny.”
And what about those furiously orange skies? Devon might be beautiful but British weather is often quite the opposite.
Spielberg, however, pleads that he is innocent of CGI sky tinkering: “There’s not a single sky we put in through special effects; The skies you see in the movie are the skies we experienced”.
So it might be a bit “schmaltzy” as many of the first reviews, including Kate Muir of The Times, suggest. But there is no denying its power as an old school Hollywood tale of love and loss.
Actor Tom Hiddleston (who plays the gallant Captain Nicholls), admitted that he was surprised how “moved” he had been by the whole experience. He said: “I believe that horses have a lot to teach us. The horse’s capacity for courage reminds people of their own humanity and I find that moving every time I watch the film”.
It has also been an emotional experience for young star Jeremy Irvine, who was offered his first “proper” job by Spielberg as lead in the film. “It was totally overwhelming at times but the other guys were really helpful”, the 21-year-old star said, “I just thought of it as a job like any other and then freaked out once I got home”.
The film’s tear-jerking content has already caused a few regal drops to roll down the immaculately made-up cheek of the Duchess of Cambridge and will no doubt move many cinema-goers when it is released nationwide this Friday.
What did we think of War Horse? Read out verdict here.