Warhorse (2011)


War Horse is a 2011 epic war 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.

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.


In 1912, a bay Thoroughbred is born in Devon, England. At auction, farmer Ted Narracott outbids his landlord Lyons for the colt, to the dismay of his wife Rose, because the family needs a working horse that can plough the field. Their son Albert, 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, heavy rain 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 sees Albert’s attachment and promises to look after Joey. 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 Joey 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 Stewart. 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 are shot for desertion; however, the Germans leave without noticing the horses. They are found by a French girl named Emilie the next morning. 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. Andrew is killed by the gas attack but Albert survives, temporarily blinded.

The Germans use Joey and Topthorn to haul artillery, under the care of Private Henglemann. He cares 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, becoming 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. To decide who should take the horse, they flip a coin; Colin wins and guides the injured Joey to the British trench. Albert hears about Joey’s rescue while recuperating. 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 because only the horses of officers will return home. Albert’s comrades raise a collection to bid for the horse. 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 recognises the strength of the soldier’s bond, and returns the pennant and Joey to Albert. Albert returns with Joey to his family’s farm, embracing his mother and returning the pennant to his father, who extends his hand to him with pride.


  • Jeremy Irvine as Albert Narracott.
  • Peter Mullan as Ted Narracott.
  • Emily Watson as Rose Narracott.
  • Niels Arestrup as Grandfather.
  • David Thewlis as Lyons.
  • Tom Hiddleston as Captain James Nicholls.
  • Benedict Cumberbatch as Major Jamie Stewart.
  • Céline Buckens as Emilie.
  • Toby Kebbell as Colin.
  • Patrick Kennedy as Lieutenant Charlie Waverly.
  • Leonard Carow as Private Michael Schröder.
  • David Kross as Private Gunther Schröder.
  • Matt Milne as Andrew Easton.
  • Robert Emms as David Lyons.
  • Eddie Marsan as Sergeant Fry.
  • Nicolas Bro as Private Friedrich Henglemann.
  • Rainer Bock as Brandt.
  • Hinnerk Schönemann as Peter.
  • Gary Lydon as Si Easton.
  • Geoff Bell as Sergeant Sam Perkins.
  • Liam Cunningham as British Army Doctor.
  • Sebastian Hulk as German Officer at Darm.
  • Gerard McSorley as Market Auctioneer.
  • Tony Pitts as Sergeant Martin.
  • Pip Torrens as Major Tompkins.
  • Philippe Nahon as French Auctioneer.
  • Jean-Claude Lecas as Butcher.
  • Julian Wadham as British Captain in Trench.
  • David Dencik as German Base Camp Officer.
  • Edward Bennett as Cavalry Recruiting Officer.
  • Johnny Harris as Infantry Recruiting Officer.
  • Tam Dean Burn as British Medic in Trench.
  • Maximilian Brückner as German Artillery Officer.
  • Maggie Ollerenshaw as the Narracotts’ neighbour.


  • 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 and was met with positive reviews.
  • The film was nominated for six Academy Awards including Best Picture, two Golden Globe Awards and five BAFTAs.

Production & Filming Details

  • Director(s): Steven Spielberg.
  • Producer(s): Steven Spielberg and Kathleen Kennedy.
  • Writer(s): Lee Hall and Richard Curtis.
  • Music: John Williams.
  • Cinematography: Janusz Kaminiski.
  • Editor(s): Michael Kahn.
  • Production: DreamWorks Pictures, Reliance Entertainment, Amblin Entertainment, and The Kennedy/Marshall Company.
  • Distributor(s): Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.
  • Release Date: 25 December 2011.
  • Running Time: 146 minutes.
  • Country: US.
  • Language: English.


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