War Horse (2011)

Out Now On-Demand

Separated by war. Tested by battle. Bound by friendship.

Spielberg directed war-drama, based on both the children's novel and its stage adaptation, about a British lad who sets out on a journey to rescue his horse from the battlefields of World War I.

Albert's (newcomer Jeremy Irvine) pet horse and best friend, Joey, is sold to the calvary at the outbreak of the first World War. Heartbroken, Albert heads to France to find his friend, despite being too young to enlist in the British army. The film follows Joey's journey across Europe and through the war, as well as Albert's search.

Also stars Tom Hiddleston (Thor), Benedict Cumberbatch (BBC's Sherlock) and Oscar-nominee Emily Watson (Breaking the Waves).


Directed by

Written by

Action, Drama, War


Rating: M contains violence


Official Site

Do you remember how on the last day of school term, post exams, when teachers had nothing left to teach, we’d be sat indoors watching a VHS? Maybe they’ll try the War Horse DVD from now on. It’s that kind of afternoon-devourer of a film. Blandly innocuous, inoffensive with some well-intentioned relation to historical events, Spielberg’s equine-led schmaltz-bucket lacks excitement.

Opening in the 1910s, we are greeted with a sequence of filly and foal cantering around hillocks in a storybook Devon. Get ready for plenty more of this, says Spielberg. Unfortunately horses are not the most expressive of beasts and there is no escaping the blank-eyed, dead-brained void that the titular character provides. That’s even with John William’s incessant score providing our every emotional cue.

Joey (that’s the horse) progresses through several sequences, each populated with earnest, Dudley-do-rights that beat us over the head with heavy-handed sentiment. Finally he arrives in the muddy trenches on the Western Front, the bit where you’ll sit up and take notice, even if a sanitised lack of blood seems surprising for the director of Saving Private Ryan.

It’s vaguely notable to consider the stylistic references to classic British films, whether general (a ‘40s visual aesthetic of a romanticised, bucolic England) or specific (a cavalry charge influenced by a similar moment in Lawrence of Arabia), and Spielberg still has the odd moment of cinematic inspiration, but War Horse is a rather uninteresting film and sadly the first of the director’s that I cared nothing for.

Chicago Sun-Times (Roger Ebert)


War Horse is bold, not afraid of sentiment and lets out all the stops in magnificently staged action sequences.

Empire (UK)


War Horse is bold, exquisite family filmmaking in the grandest Hollywood tradition.

Entertainment Weekly


This is a beautifully built, classically framed movie, shot with the unshowy natural expressiveness of a John Ford Western.

Film3 (Kate Rodger)


War Horse left me strangely and definitively unmoved on every level, with a cheesiness factor alienating me from the characters and robbing me of any connection with the story.

Guardian (UK)


In the end, while you can't doubt Spielberg's commitment to telling a putatively heartwarming and emotion-wringing tale, War Horse is just too calculated to do what he wants to do.

Hollywood Reporter


A grandly made, tear-jerking film for all audiences, the way Hollywood used to make them.

The A.V Club (USA)


Spielberg exercises stunning control behind the camera.

Total Film (UK)


War Horse shows Spielberg back in the saddle, in full command of story, setting and characters.

Variety (USA)


This beautifully composed picture brings a robust physicality to tried-and-true source material, but falls short of the sustained narrative involvement and emotional drive its resolutely old-fashioned storytelling demands.



Steven, Steven, Steven :(

Mister Spielberg is sadly going down the same road as Mister Lucas by pouring millions to produce disappointing results. His demise began with the last Indiana Jones movie and continues with this. How it was nominated for Best Picture is beyond me! There are much better films that weren't even nominated that are far superior to this film. I sincerely hope he can turn things around with Lincoln.

Not bad for a children's novel

I thought the scenery and backdrop for The War Horse was great. Everyone said how it was a terrible movie. Really, it was a pretty good story about the adventures and trials of a horse in WWI I. I'm not sure it was ever meant to be about WWI itself.

I don't understand all the negative reviews!

I am stumped by all the poor reviews - I loved this movie! I can only think that the reviewers are all die-hard Spielberg fans and that this movie didn't meet up to their pre-conceived ideas. I found it very moving and it is a beautiful story. The only negative comment I would make is that there appeared to be a mixture of "styles" - we went from Emmerdale Farm to Charge of The Light Brigarde to Saving Private Ryan to Gone With The Wind! But the cinematography was excellent and it was great entertainment - I wasn't bored for a minute!


I'm a huge Spielberg fan. I even loved AI: ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE. But then again, HOOK made me vomit; ALWAYS made me want to gouge out my eyes with a rusty spoon and AMISTAD was just plain dull. Sadly, WAR HORSE joins these three as one of the Berg's misfires. Sappy, soppy, silly - and that's not even because it's hero is, um, a horse. Great cast, scrumptious cinematography... So, see the trailer and give it a miss. Unless you have ikkle kidlets who love stuff like BLACK BEAUTY or LASSIE goes to war. Then? It's a harmless, fluffy family Sunday afternoon TV movie. Sort of THE RAILWAY CHILDREN... with a horse... in a war... One star for the cinematography and a couple of nice set pieces, but we expect more of you Sir Steve, no horsesh*t.

2 words. Steven Speilberg.

Once again Speilberg has got it horribly wrong. Even the English village locations looked like Hollywood backlots.

Emily Watson's talents were sorely underused and what was Benedict Cumberbatch doing in this clunker? He must have been fooled into thinking this was going to be a WW1 story. Only one good scene in this.Don't bother going for it.


how has this been oscar nominated?

possibly a good kids movie, but not adult fare.

simplistic story line where just about everyone lives happily ever after and few scenes of people coming to a bad end

just rubbish.


War horse is a good movie for over here din NZ even though in the USA it went straight to dvd. but thats why i give it 4 stars

Bore Horse

What on earth has happened to Steven Spielberg? Despite large amounts of negativity surrounding War Horse, I was firmly of the opinion that anything the legendary director had to offer was worth taking a chance on and seeing in the cinema. Now I'm not so convinced.

After not releasing a film since 2008's widely derided Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, a film which even The Beard himself seems content to blame on best friend George Lucas, Spielberg has returned with two high profile releases in the last month. The Adventures of Tintin was underwhelming aside from a handful of spectacular set pieces, but with War Horse he delivers such a contrived, pathetically sappy piece of fluff that I honestly have a hard time deciding whether the films is meant to be taken seriously, or is in fact some kind of bizarre parody. Spielberg has always teetered into an over-reliance on sentimentality, yet in this latest film he turns the attempted heart string pulling up to eleven, and what we end up with is a completely phony and unauthentic set of vignettes all tied together by our hero: Joey the wonder horse. It feels like one of those 'truth is stranger than fiction' stories that you would never believe if it didn't really happen, with one key difference: this story isn't true. It didn't really happen. And so, I never believed in any of it for a second.

War Horse takes the entire first act to build up the character of Joey, who we're told to believe is a special horse for some reason which is never really made clear. Perhaps 'told' is the wrong word to use. OK, we're beaten over the head with how special this horse is. Following the outbreak of World War I, Joey is sold to the military, in the care of Captain Nicholls (Tom Hiddleston), to be sent to the front to aid the war effort. Given that WWI is likely to remain the last time horses were widely used in combat, there is potentially interesting stuff here, but after a moderately engaging 20 minutes or so Joey winds up in the hands of two German army deserters. Odd choice, but perhaps Spielberg will allow something to develop here. No, 20 minutes later and our two Germans are out of the picture and this increasingly infuriating horse finds himself being taught how to jump by a young French girl. And so we go on, with stories beginning all over the place, only to be abandoned in quick succession. One thing is constant however, which no-one in the film seems to be aware of: this horse is a frighteningly bad omen, and each new person who comes across Joey and immediately falls for his plucky charm is living on borrowed time. But, luckily for Joey, after spreading misery and death throughout Europe there's always another poor soul waiting in the wings to take up the reins. I'll stress again, I just don't know how to take this seriously.

War Horse is going to be remembered as one of the worst films in Spielberg's catalogue. It is a movie which abandons all logical cause and effect narrative in favour of simply having things happen without reason, in a glaringly deliberate attempt to enamour audiences to this horse. Spielberg tries to work audience emotions like a twisted puppet master, commanding us to feel on cue, but it is my sincere hope that viewers are smart enough to realise when they are being manipulated. I'm sure Spielberg still has interesting movies to make (fingers crossed for Lincoln later this year), but War Horse comes up lame from the opening scene, and I wish someone had the good sense to put it out of its misery with a bullet to the head.