THE casualties of war extend far beyond the terrible loss of human life.
During the First World War, thousands of pigeons carried vital messages over long distances; dogs detected mines, while millions of horses, donkeys and mules carried supplies and ammunition or charged into battle in the Allied cavalry.
Eight million horses perished in appalling conditions.
A memorial in London pays tribute to the fallen creatures, and author Michael Morpurgo expressed his debt of gratitude in 1982 children’s novel War Horse, which has been adapted into a breathtaking stage production.
Now, Steven Spielberg directs this handsome Oscar-tipped film version of his heart-rending tale.
Alcohol-soaked farmer Ted Narracott (Peter Mullan) pays over the odds for a foal called Joey to spite landlord Lyons (David Thewlis) when he is supposed to be buying a plough horse.
Long-suffering wife Rose (Emily Watson) despairs, wondering how they will pay the rent, while son Albert (Jeremy Irvine) promises to train the animal to work the fields.
When Europe goes to war, Ted sells Joey to Captain Nicholls, who promises to take good care of him.
Albert subsequently learns of tragedy on the battlefield and enlists in the army with his best friend Andrew to track down Joey and return the horse to the farm.
Meanwhile, behind enemy lines, Joey is captured by the Germans and embarks on a momentous journey in the company of young soldier Gunther, a French girl and her grandfather.
The film is a deeply moving and sweeping drama that harnesses Spielberg’s virtuosity behind the camera.
Scenes in the trenches recall the pyrotechnic-laden hell of Saving Private Ryan and a pivotal scene of Joey ensnared in barbed wire in no man’s land during the second battle of The Somme is genuinely horrifying.
Irvine is an endearing and steadfast hero, but invariably, the four-legged stars canter away with our tear-stained affections.