The year 2012 will be remembered for many reasons. Not only did it see the release of several iconic films, but it was also the year of the Olympics. While we were busy preparing for the London Summer Games, another major event was taking place just a few miles away in Weymouth. The International Horse Show (formerly the Derby International Horse Show), presented by the legendary Aga Khan, was a spectacular event to cap off a remarkable year for British equestrians. It would prove to be the last hurrah for the golden era of the British horse industry, as the following year saw a 72% decline in revenues and a 187% rise in operating costs.
One of the most memorable moments from the 2012 edition of the Derby was witnessing the emotional farewell to Norman Hartnell. The great British horse-dressage artist, designer, and artist, known for his unique and innovative outfits for horses, had been battling illness for much of the year. However, towards the end he was able to attend a couple of shows before being forced to retire due to ill health. In his final years, Hartnell was credited with helping to save the British horse industry and it was a sad loss for the veterinary profession, the British horse-dressage community, and for animal lovers worldwide. In what was to become a familiar sentiment, Hartnell’s son, William, paid tribute to his father, saying: “It is with great sadness that I learned today of my father’s death. He was a much-loved, iconic figure in the equestrian world and will be greatly missed.”
It was a moment that crystallised what had been one of the most remarkable years in the history of the British horse industry. The previous year had seen a number of significant events which would prove to be transformative in shaping the future of the noble steed. The year 2010 had seen the emergence of a new, younger generation of equestrians, many of whom had been inspired by the likes of Hartnell and whose fashion statements were changing the face of the sport. If Norman Hartnell is the genius behind the outfits of the 1920s, then it can be argued that Steven Spielberg, the man behind the camera, had a hand in shaping the image of the 1940s and 1950s. It is thanks to Spielberg that we have the distinct and iconic fashion styles of the ‘big band’ era which continue to make an appearance in modern equestrian parades and on television, even to this day.
Spielberg’s latest film, the Oscar-winning War Horse, is set in World War One, but it deals with many of the themes and issues which were prominent in the years just before, during, and just after the great war. One of the defining aspects of the war is the iconic look of the ‘Trench Coat’. The most recognisable item of clothing from the Great War was the trench coat. While the material and design of the coat had changed over the years, the style had remained largely unchanged and is now seen as a symbol of the time. The trench coat would go on to influence fashion and style for decades to come.
The influence of the film’s period setting can be felt in many ways. The costumes are beautiful and the attention to detail is incredible. There is an emphasis on creating a high quality, authentic visual and aural experience for the audience. The film is widely considered to be amongst the finest examples of Historical Fiction and many of the costumes, vehicles, and sets, while not actually belonging to the time, were designed to evoke the spirit of that era. The film also features many iconic songs, including ‘I Hate To Cry’, ‘When We Are Married’, and ‘Strange Fella’, which continues to be covered by artists and bands even today.
For those unfamiliar with the story, War Horse is based on a novel of the same name by Michael Morpurgo. The drama concerns a young boy, Albert, who becomes stranded in the trenches during the Great War. Through an act of kindness, Albert befriends a horse, Joey, whose owner, Major George, is killed in action. Albert subsequently sets out to find, and befriend, other horses in order to prove to the world that there are good and kind horses and that they shouldn’t be associated with the horrors of war. The novel and the film focus strongly on the themes of kindness, loyalty, and forgiveness. The film also explores grief, loss, and trauma, which can still be felt across society today, with or without the reminders of the Great War.
The theme of animal loyalty and protection is also explored in Spielberg’s War Horse. There are several tragic events in the film involving horses and some which are unexpected, such as when Albert befriends a dog belonging to a cruel man named Snippy, who later gets his dog killed by a landmine. The protective nature that Albert and Joey share is demonstrated when the dogs of a German soldier injure one of their own kind. Seeing the other dogs attacking the German soldier, Albert and Joey rush to his defence. It’s a moving scene and a powerful symbol of the animals’ loyalty to their human companions.
Some have compared the story to Holocaust literature, due to the similarities between the themes of the novel and the film. Indeed, Michael Morpurgo said that when he first heard that his novel had been made into a film, he initially assumed that it was going to be ‘a very nasty story’ about the Holocaust. However, the themes of the two are very much linked and Morpurgo said that he had “no intention of ripping off the Holocaust’ in the first place.” He went on to say: “I feel very strongly that if you want to understand the Holocaust, you have to understand World War One.”
Weymouth, known officially as Weymouth and Portland, is one of the most beautiful towns in England. It is situated on the Dorset coast, just a few miles from the bustle of Bournemouth and the tranquillity of Poole. The beaches in Weymouth are some of the best in England and are a favourite spot for families and couples to enjoy a weekend away. The scenic coastline provides the backdrop for several annual festivals, including the internationally renowned Weymouth Festival. However, it was the horse industry that would put the town on the map. In 1882, the Weymouth International Horse Show, now known as the Derby, was first held in the town. Since then, the annual horse show has become an iconic piece of British culture and was even the inspiration for the fictitious Eton Boyz Festival in the 1995 film, The Lion King.
It was an incredibly picturesque setting for one of the most memorable sporting events of the year. The combination of the great British weather and the beautiful, sandy beaches were just what the participants and spectators needed to complete a perfect day. The combination of pristine, white sands and azure, sky would later feature on many of the wedding dress designs for the following year. It was, without doubt, a memorable and fitting end to the 2012 sports season and would prove to be an important moment in the history of the town. The International Horse Show would not be held in the town for another 16 years, but it would be remembered as one of the most important and memorable events in its history.
The story of Steven Spielberg’s War Horse is one that is as potent today as it was when it was first released in 2012. The film is an important piece of historical fiction which explores many of the issues surrounding the First World War and the legacy it left behind. It is, essentially, the story of an innocent boy who discovers the true nature of war and how much it can affect those who are completely out of the loop. The themes and issues explored in the film still resonate, even to this day.