England

Horse lover Revel Guest helped War Horse film

An 80-year-old documentary maker and horse lover has been reflecting on how she contributed to Steven Spielberg's War Horse, which is about to be released in the UK.

The film, about a horse sent from rural Devon to fight in France during World War I, is based on a book by children's author Michael Morpurgo.

Documentary maker Revel Guest, from Whitney-on-Wye, Herefordshire, made an informal agreement with the Devon author more than a decade ago to turn it into a movie.

But she said the film only became a reality after Spielberg approached her, Mr Morpurgo and a scriptwriter she had previously worked with, Lee Hall.

Previously she had "very many misgivings about Hollywood" but said she saw the director's "passion" at first hand, and added she had been "treated unbelievably well" on the set while the film was made.

'Jump up and down'

"When the shot went really well, he jumped up and down with excitement," she said.

"You expect people when they're very, very young to jump up and down with excitement.

"It's very nice to see somebody as mature as him doing that."

Ms Guest's interest in the book began when she read it to her eldest granddaughter.

Later, she called Mr Morpurgo to ask him to lunch. She said he was "very interested" in translating the book to the screen, she said, but money was a stumbling block for her documentary film company.

Image caption Revel Guest said she was "treated unbelievably well" on the set

"So it was just perchance, as so many things are in life, at the Hay Festival in my house we always have the scriptwriters' masterclass.

"Lee Hall - of Billy Eliot fame - was sitting on the lawn... he turned to me and said 'what do you want to do next?'

"I said 'well I've always had this great desire to make a film of War Horse' and he said 'oh yeah, well I love that book'."

It was decided Mr Hall would write a script, she said, and the scriptwriter, author and documentary maker teamed up.

Then Spielberg stepped in. Ms Guest said he was "bowled over" by a play of the book, after it was recommended to him - and wanted to make the film.

"We then gave up our rights... he said he would direct it. It was announced by DreamWorks [Spielberg's film company] and the movie started six months later, they started shooting."

Critical acclaim

The book was adapted for the theatre in London in 2007 and has also received critical acclaim since opening on Broadway in the United States.

Mr Morpurgo, who wrote War Horse in 1982, ultimately has a cameo role in the film, which is to go on general release in the UK on 13 January.

It tells the tale of farmhand Albert Narracott's mission to find his horse Joey, who was sold to the British cavalry by his father and shipped to France where he became involved in carnage on both sides of the trenches.

Image caption Revel Guest said Steven Spielberg was "bowled over" by a play of the book

When Albert is old enough to enlist, he embarks on a mission to the trenches to find Joey and bring him home to Devon.

Ms Guest, who lives on a working farm with stables, said: "I love horses. I think once you're bitten by horses, you never lose it.

"The effect is to try to make it clear that the relationship that can be formed between an animal, and particularly a horse in this case, and a human is a very important one.

"The relationship that in the movie Albert makes with Joey, the horse, is they're like brothers and it's a wonderful relationship."

Ms Guest, who was a rare female producer on the BBC's Panorama early in her career, has now seen the film several times and said it was an "extraordinary movie about bravery".

She added: "In those days, as you well know, people weren't supposed to question why.

"They just died for their country and were expected to.

"In the extraordinary charge, which people will be amazed by in the movie, to pit wonderful horses with men with sabres on top and against guns, it was a madness."

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