The Evolution of War Horse
British writer Michael Morpurgo has authored over 100 books, but he lists War Horse as one of his four favorite books that he's written. Published in 1982, War Horse was turned into a play in 2007. Morpurgo initially didn't think the book would translate well on stage, but its instant success proved him wrong. War Horse debuted on October 17, 2007 at the Royal National-Olivier Theatre in London. It ran through to February 14, 2008 and returned for a second run from September 10, 2008 to March 18, 2009. On March 28, 2009, it transferred to the West End's New London Theatre, where it won an Olivier Award, Evening Standard Theatre Award and London Critics' Circle Theatre Award. In 2010, it broke the record for the highest weekly gross for a play in the West End and as of 2011, had been seen by more than one million people.
An American production of War Horse opened on Broadway on April 14, 2011. It won five Tony Awards, including Best Play, and was so popular it was given an open-ended run.
In 2009, DreamWorks Studios bought the film rights for the book and play. Steven Spielberg was asked to direct the movie and agreed, saying, "From the moment I read Michael Morpurgo's novel War Horse, I knew this was a film I wanted DreamWorks to make... its heart and its message can be felt in every country."
Filmed in England, it follows a boy named Albert, whose horse Joey is sold to the cavalry. The story is seen through Joey's eyes, as he experiences the tragedy and brutality of war. Though he's too young to enlist, Albert sets out to rescue Joey and bring him home.
During filming, 14 different horses were used to portray Joey, and each one had to have their coat dyed and markings added for continuity, by a special equine make-up team. For Spielberg, the opportunity to work with horses was an exhilarating experience: "The horses were an extraordinary experience for me, because several members of my family ride. I was really amazed at how expressive horses are and how much they can show what they're feeling."
Michael Morpurgo visited the set during filming, and was impressed by what he saw, telling The Press and Journal: "Spielberg's a wonderful storyteller and a kid. He adores stories and that's what he's best at. It's extraordinary to meet someone with that kind of enthusiasm, utterly unspoiled... He was warm, kind and open, and utterly without ego ... I was in awe."
Spielberg explains why he so readily agreed to direct the movie: "I thought the story was absolutely fascinating, and I was simply transported. In my mind it was a very honest story. I saw it as a movie for families, the journey of a boy and a horse who were once so close, whose destinies drive them far apart. I hope this story will bring people together through this shared experience."