This Steven Spielberg movie, based on a popular play written by Nick Stafford which was based on the children's book by Michael Morpurgo, is an easy target for critics to take aim and fire at. There's no denying that it has many moments that exemplify the very worst of Spielberg's predilections and there will be many people for whom this is just absolute anathema. Nevertheless, I quite enjoyed it.
Peter Mullan plays Ted Narracott, a farmer who doesn't really have much luck in life. Mind you, he doesn't always help himself, like when he decides to outbid his landlord (David Thewlis) for a horse that everyone knows will be of no use to him for ploughing purposes. He gets the horse, but is also indebted to his landlord. It looks grim, grim indeed, but his son, Albert (Jeremy Irvine), has faith in the horse and sets out to prove everyone wrong by leading it around the field and getting it to pull the plough. Sadly, despite the horse showing great tenacity, there's not enough done to keep the farm safe and so Ted sells the horse to an army Captain (Tom Hiddleston). Albert is determined that they'll be reunited one day and he signs up for the army as soon as he's old enough, but there's no guarantee that he'll ever actually see his horse again or, indeed, survive the perils of war.
Yes, it's overloaded with sentiment in places (thanks to Spielberg and the music of John Williams) and yes, there are too many shots with rays of sunlight just providing an aura for the lead characters, thanks to cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, but this is still an enjoyable family adventure that will take you through a range of emotions before the end credits roll.
The best thing about it is the quality of the cast. As well as those already mentioned (Mullan, Thewlis, Irvine, Hiddleston), viewers gets to see the following actors in a variety of small and large roles: Emily Watson, Niels Arestrup, Benedict Cumberbatch, Geoff Bell, Eddie Marsan, Toby Kebbell and Liam Cunningham. Even the lesser-known (and unknown) cast members do a great job, with Celine Buckens making a good impression as young Emilie, a girl who also makes a connection with the titular horse.
There are one or two moments of darker content in the movie, but they're handled with kid gloves and moved aside in plenty of time for the next uplifting sequence. People will accuse the movie of being far too sugary and heavy-handed for its own good and it is, but it's also just a nice, old-fashioned adventure story with plenty of great moments throughout.