With Steven Spielberg at the reins, this is a skilful version of Michael Morpurgo’s tale of a Devon farm boy (Jeremy Irvine) and his beloved horse fighting in World War One.
A huge success as a book and an even bigger hit on stage, this heart-rending tale translates well to the screen, too, though surprisingly it isn’t as affecting as it might have been.
Separated from his beloved chestnut colt at the outbreak of war when the horse becomes the mount of Tom Hiddleston’s cavalry officer, newcomer Irvine’s Albert signs up as an infantryman in the hope of being reunited with the horse.
As the animal passes from owner to owner amidst the carnage and confusion of combat, Spielberg endeavours to capture the horrors of war in a family-friendly way.
The thoroughbred cast includes Emily Watson, Peter Mullan, Benedict Cumberbatch and David Thewlis, and there are some arresting set pieces, such as a doomed cavalry charge through long grass and a scene in which the horse is stranded between the opposing trenches in the hell of no man’s land.
Overall, though, the film falls short because it tries too hard to tug our heartstrings.