“The ma­te­rial makes for vin­tage Spiel­berg. Imag­ine ET with a horse but with Eliot’s friends dy­ing in the trenches”

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Film -

eran had worked with war horses as part of his du­ties with the Devon Yeo­manry dur­ing the Great War. “Then I also met Cap­tain Bud­gett who had been in the cavalry,” re­calls Mor­purgo. “He re­mem­bered feed­ing his horse and stroking his horse and talk­ing to his horse, partly to com­fort the horse and partly to com­fort him­self.”

Mor­purgo’s sub­se­quent re­search un­cov­ered the hor­ri­ble fate of mil­lions of an­i­mals: eight mil­lion died on the Bri­tish side alone. He de­ter­mined to write a book from the horse’s point of view but was un­sure how to go about it “I knew if I wanted to tell a story us­ing the voice of a horse I was ask­ing the reader to make a mas­sive leap.” Black Beauty had been a hugely im­por­tant book for his wife, Claire, grow­ing up. But Michael was a Robert Louis Steven­son kid and was wary of the no­tion of talk­ing horses.

“I knew Black Beauty was out there of course,” says Mor­purgo. “And I knew us­ing the horse as nar­ra­tor would draw com­par­isons. In fact the re­views of the book were ini­tially very mixed for that rea­son. I was wait­ing for ‘poor man’s Black Beauty’ and I got it. But in the end I couldn’t think of any other way to tell this story.” A young vis­i­tor to Farms for City Chil­dren, a char­ity founded by Michael and Claire Mor­purgo, served to fi­nally ce­ment the idea.

“He was a lit­tle boy who was very trou­bled,” says Mor­purgo “He had not spo­ken in school for two years. And he was stand­ing by this horse one night, just let­ting the words flow and telling the horse all about his day. I don’t know where that comes from. It’s some­thing to do with trust. It’s some­thing to do with love. It’s some­thing to do with threat and mock­ery and judge­ment be­ing taken away. It’s just some­thing about horses.”

Spiel­berg’s film un­der­stand­ably ditches Joey’s nar­ra­tion and opts for pas­sive pony suf­fer­ing in the style of Au Hasard Balt­hazar. Mor­purgo is de­lighted by the changes even if it isn’t pre­cisely his Joey.

“It’s true. Joey wasn’t quite the way I pic­tured him. Devon stock has to be hardy so Joey would have been a lit­tle hairier, a lit­tle less smart look­ing in my mind. The horse in the film is very beau­ti­ful. I’m thrilled for him. And Al­bert in the film looks like a young Gre­gory Peck. We don’t have many of those in Devon ei­ther. But all told I think we’re pleased with this Spiel­berg film. We won’t need him to do any reshoots.”

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