Michael Morpurgo said there’s really no-one better to “hold your baby” than Steven Spielberg
“Any story about war is going to be political whether you like it or not,” Michael Morpurgo, the author of children’s classic War Horse, said at a press conference with the prolific director and stars of the film Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson and Tom Hiddleston.
He said the sudden upsurge in War Horse’s popularity is down to a very modern reason: war is more relevant now than it was in 1982 when the book came out. “Bodies are being flown home; coffins covered in flags.” He added that if a book or a film or a play (of which War Horse is all three) “gets you thinking, then that’s all that matters.”
War Horse is the story of Joey, a horse who is bought for a farm, then sold to the army, where it experiences the brutality of war from both sides. Morpurgo said himself that the story leaves you desperately sad, wrecked and wretched. A war veteran he spoke to more than 30 years ago - an officer in the Yeomanry who had gone to war with horses - inspired the story. He told Morpurgo how he would “go to his horse at night at talk to it about his fears, about wanting to go home.”
The film conveys the “waste” of war, Morpurgo said: “the waste and pity of war, in Wilfred Owen’s phrase. Blood and gore weren’t necessary. One million horses went to war and 65,000 came home. The same amount of horses died as men, and died in the same way. Many were sold off as butcher’s meat, as the government thought they weren’t worth bringing home.”
Spielberg said he considers War Horse to be his first “truly British film”, after a more than warm reception last night at the film’s world premiere in London. Filmed in Dartmoor and Wiltshire, Spielberg said the landscape was essential to the film, and “looks like Hollywood built it”. None of the skies in the film are digital – the orange and tawny hues so captivating in the landscape were all real (the actors conceded that what with Spielberg’s team having worked with him for decades, they can “move pretty fast”). Spielberg added that John Ford’s How Green Was My Valley, a childhood favourite, was a big influence on the film’s imagery.
Eight horses were used for the filming, each of which had to spend 45 minutes in makeup. Spielberg said his 15-year-old horse lover daughter Destry said he “had” to do the film; the Spielbergs have ten horses at home, and Spielberg doesn’t ride but knows how to muck out a stable.
The director, whose IMDB page lists him as the director of 50 films and producer of 131, said that Joey the horse represents “common sense. If we all had Joey’s common sense, we wouldn’t have wars.”
War Horse is out at cinemas this Friday.