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War Horse Survives

The horse with heart shows well on both stage and screen

by  Katy Littlejohn

As a Theatre student, I have tried to make it my mission to value a stage production over a film adaptation. Of course, it’s one of those rules that can be broken—for example,the movie Dirty Dancing is far more superior to its stage show replica that was in town a few years ago. But when I heard that Steven Spielberg was directing the movie version of War Horse, and that it would be in cinemas at the same time that Mirvish was bringing the highly anticipated stage production to Toronto, I just knew I could not see the film.

Here’s why: I’ve mentioned that I am a Theatre student. The truth is, I was a Drama major in university—this is the sort of degree that diehards claim will make them a student for life. I guess I’m a pseudo diehard because, though I’m no longer reading scripts, sewing costumes, or lighting stages all day, I do feel it’s my duty to uphold the sanctity of the theatre, and view Hollywood as the stage’s equivalent of Mordor.

Unfortunately, my student loan budget refuses me the luxury of actually seeing many productions, which includes War Horse. I would love to though—the horses alone (life-sized puppets operated on stage) are supposed to be spectacular presences in the production, and the story is supposed to break your heart (I’m a sucker for anything that promises me that I’ll be weeping by the curtain call). I would encourage anyone who’s not living off OSAP to try to see the show. You can find all the information you need here. .

But back to the film; this is, after all, Oscars Week here at OtD online. Despite my protestations and refusal to see the film until I could gather enough pennies for a theatre ticket first, the Academy has gone ahead and nominated it for Best Picture along with five other movies. So maybe there is some merit to the movie or maybe it just has a “Spielberg” attached to its name. There’s only one way to find out…I’m off to see War Horse—please don’t tell my professors!

Okay, it was beautifully filmed and stayed true to the heart of the story, originally told in the novel by Michael Morpurgo. Maybe some stories can be told in three different mediums without losing their soul. The horse, Joey, is first loved by Alby (Jeremy Irvine), a young farmer’s son who teaches the “fancy” thoroughbred to plow in order to save his family’s farm. The hard work and love that the master puts into Joey ends up paying off in many ways as Joey is shipped off to the front lines of WWI without Alby. The adventure continues, but I won’t spoil anything. All I will say is that the heart of this story is how the respect a master shows his horse results in a beautiful partnership.

This is a lesson I wish we’d all take to heart—no, not with horses, but with each other. Respect and a willingness to work hard for one another; whether we are the master or the horse, every person has the potential to use their position and strengths to better the world.

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