With the big screen adaptation of War Horse set for a DVD and Blu-ray release next month, we take a look at the differences between the acclaimed tale’s book, cinema and stage incarnations.
As with most adaptations from books and plays, there are some significant differences between the Spielberg movie version of War Horse and its previous print and stage incarnations.
This makes them rather unique experiences in each of the versions, and whilst purists may not be especially pleased there are undoubtedly some plus points in the ways in which the theatre and screen versions differ.
In the book, unlike the play and movie, all of the drama that takes place is experienced from and related through the point of view of the horse. Also, a number of the characters in the movie are more developed than they are in the original book version, and conversely there are some characters that are well-developed in the book which do not figure in the movie at all.
In the book and stage versions, the father Ted Narracott character is portrayed as a detestable specimen, whereas in the movie his is seen as more pitiable and something of a victim of circumstances.
So the movie and the book, although relating the same essential story, are different in their points of view, emphasis and the ways in which the story is seen to unfold.
The Broadway production of the play in particular is generally reckoned to be flawless, with a backdrop that seems almost ripped out of history and plastered across the stage. The stagecraft owes something to the Lion King and Equus, at once minimalist and awesome, hinting at a rich historic detail rather than attempting to display it in full.
In the stage version too there is no attempt to obscure activities of the stage hands as they criss-cross the stage erecting successive sets, and this adds to the sensation of claustrophobia and hectic activity for the audience, whereas of course in the movie the audience is kept firmly back and bears witness to smooth changes of scene as one would expect.
One of the main advantages of the movie version is the inclusion of a wider and more finely painted world, which can only be hinted at on stage, and whilst this may be a negative for die-hard theatre fans with robust imaginations it takes much of the hard work out of the experience for the average viewer.
Another associated advantage of the movie version is the inclusion of an international cast, most of whom bring their skills from a theatrical background, like Emily Watson and Benedict Cumberbatch.
Something that may prove disappointing to fans coming from the book and play to the movie is the lessened emotional bond between Albert and his horse. Where this is a crucial relationship about which the rest of the play effectively hangs in the stage version, in the movie it is merely a naturally evolving relationship.
There are therefore a number of differences between the book, play and film versions of War Horse, but certainly amongst those who have seen the play there is a consensus that the magic generated by the stage version will be hard to attain in the cinema.
Having said that, all War Horse fans consulted seem bent on seeing the movie at least to compare the two versions, and those who have seen the movie concede that there are some advantages such as character development and background that are handled best on the silver screen.