Steven Spielberg has rounded up a clutch of quality British acting talent to head up the cast of War Horse, his first film to reach the screens since 2008’s Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull. Emily Watson, Peter Mullan, David Thewlis and Benedict Cumberbatch have all signed on the dotted line, but taking the lead (or the reins) is young actor Jeremy Irvine, who has earned his stripes with both the National Youth Theatre and the RSC.
War Horse traces the friendship between Joey, a farm horse sold into the British army and sent off to serve on the battlefields of France during World War 1, and Albert (Irvine), his young owner. Watson and Mullan play Albert’s parents. Cumberbatch, so good as the quiz captain in Starter For 10 and the oily confectionery magnate in Atonement, will play military man Major Stewart.
Rounding out the internationally diverse cast are Niels Arestrup (A Prophet, The Diving Bell And The Butterfly) as the grandfather of a young French girl (Celine Buckens) who takes Joey in, plus Nicolas Bro, David Kross, Leonard Carow, Rainer Bock, Robert Emms and Patrick Kennedy. Also in talks to join the cast are Tom Hiddleston, who is on villain duties as Loki in Kenneth Branagh’s Thor, and Stephen Graham, This Is England’s powerhouse last seen on the big screen in Michael Mann’s Public Enemies.
Adapted by Lee Hall (best known for Billy Elliot) and Richard Curtis from Michael Morpurgo’s novel and Nick Stafford’s stage adaptation, the story has the scope for the kind of epic action and intimate, heartrending drama that is Spielberg’s forte. On paper, this touches base with Spielberg’s underrated Empire Of The Sun, a rite of passage in the theatre of (a very different) war, and that is a mouth-watering prospect.