Pour yourself a glass of wine, break open the popcorn, and settle back to enjoy one of these classic films starring that most noble of beasts, the horse
There have been five film version of the 1877 novel by Anna Sewell, which tells the story of Black Beauty’s early days as a carefree colt, to his hard life pulling Hackney cabs in London, to his happy retirement in the country, all from the horse’s point of view. Anna Sewell wrote the book to raise awareness about animal welfare and it was an instant bestseller. It’s since sold 50 million copies all over the world. The 1994 film version stars Sean Bean and David Thewliss, with Alan Cumming as the voice of Black Beauty. Emotionally harrowing, although ultimately uplifting, watch it with a box of tissues to hand.
In this 1944 classic, a young Elizabeth Taylor plays 12-year old Velvet Brown, who dreams of winning the Grand National on her spirited piebald stallion, The Pie. Aided by a young drifter called Mi (Mickey Rooney), she trains Pie for the big race – but how can she ride him to victory at a time when women jockeys were banned? This was the film that shot Liz Taylor, aged 12 herself, to stardom. It’s a must-see for every pony-mad girl (or grown-up) who dreams of equestrian success.
A sort-of sequel to National Velvet, this 1978 film follows the fortunes of Sarah Brown (Tatum O’Neal), who’s sent to live with her aunt Velvet Brown (played by Nanette Newman after Elizabeth Taylor turned the role down) in England when her parents are killed in a car crash. Struggling to cope with the troubled teen, Velvet buys Sarah the last foal sired by The Pie, Arizona Pie. Sarah pursues an eventing career on him, and ends up on the British Olympic team. This is a fantastic coming-of-age tale about love, family – and the comfort and happiness that horses can bring.
This novel and theatre production moved on to the big screen in 2011, where it became a box office hit. Directed by Steven Spielberg, the film stared Jeremy Irvine and Emily Watson. It follows the life of ‘Joey’, a British-bred horse who works on a farm, before being bought by the army and thrust into the middle of the war on the Western Front. His former owner is determind to find him and follows him to France. There are many troubles ahead, but eventually man and horse are reunited, but will they be able to return to their home? Another one that requires tissues.
Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron
Set in the Wild West, Spirit is a dun Kiger Mustang who’s always lived wild and free, until he’s captured by a cruel US army colonel who tries to break his spirit. With the help of a Native American boy, Little Creek, and his mare Rain, Spirit escapes – but with The Colonel in hot pursuit, can they ever truly find freedom? Matt Damon provides the voice for Spirit in this beautiful animated adventure that will leave you spellbound.
Based on a true story, this 2003 film chronicles the life of Seabiscuit, a small thoroughbred deemed untrainable as a colt, who went on to become a prize-winning racehorse and huge media sensation during the Great Depression in 1930s America. Tobey Maguire, Jeff Bridges and Chris Cooper play the unlikely triumvirate of drifters and chancers who produced and rode him to such great success – against all odds.
Dakota Fanning plays Cale, the precocious daughter of horse trainer Ben (Kurt Russell.) When Ben and Cale witness a racehorse, Sonador, breaking her leg, Cale persuades him to buy her and nurse her back to health. Initially sceptical, an amazed Ben realizes the horse still has racing potential – but there are many personal and professional hurdles to overcome before Sonador will ever win a race… This is also based on a true story, that of filly Mariah’s Storm, winner of the 1995 Turfway Breeders’ Cup.
The Horse Whisperer
When teenager Grace (Scarlett Johanssen) is horribly injured in a riding accident, Grace’s mother Annie refuses to give up on either her daughter or her equally traumatised horse, Pilgrim. Instead, she hires ‘horse whisperer’ Tom Booker, who uses natural horsemanship techniques to rehabilitate the pair of them. The film drew some criticism for some of the horse training techniques shown – such as the apparent rehabilitation of Pilgrim in just one session, which does stretch credulity somewhat – but it remains an inspiring story with an overwhelmingly positive message. And it’s fun pointing out the horsey bloopers!