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Black Beauty Movie Review

thompson cook peter bron

Filmmakers have tried many times, with variable results, to transfer Anna Sewell's classic children's book Black Beauty to the screen. First published in 1877, when many regarded horses as mere vehicles for their convenience, Sewell's novel was a shocking consciousness raiser. Written for the audience who would be most vulnerable to its grim message, Black Beauty was so effective that no child could ever forget it. It's hard to imagine any young reader who could grow up without caring about the welfare of the horses who played such a crucial role in late 19th and early 20th century transportation. Unsurprisingly, the sheer brutality of the subject matter frightened movie producers. Films made in 1946 and 1971 softened the harshness of Black Beauty's plight by padding storylines with romantic triangles and cute kids. Caroline Thompson's faithful adaptation may have finally got it right. Beautifully filmed, many portions of the book survive intact: Black Beauty's idyllic infancy and adolescence, his subsequent sale to aristocratic owners who abuse him in the name of fashion, his hard life working for a poor but kindly cab driver, his unbearable existence pulling a cart, and finally his fairy tale reunion with the grown-up stable boy who cares for him in his retirement. Along the way, we see man's inhumanity to animals in many ways: ignorance, indifference, neglect, and drunkenness, as well as a near-fatal stable fire and the systematic destruction of a spirited horse named Ginger. For very small children, all this may be too strong a dose of reality. (Several cried and had to leave the screening of Black Beauty that I attended.) Director Thompson still deserves high marks for her sincere effort to capture the sadness, cruelty, and small joys of life in another time. (Cast Note: Eleanor Bron and Peter Cook co-starred in Bedazzled. Bron went on to play mean Miss Minchin in 1995's A Little Princess. Sadly, this was Cook's swan song. Only 57, he died in 1995.)

1994 (G) 88m/C Andrew Knott, Sean Bean, David Thewlis, Jim Carter, Alun Armstrong, Eleanor Bron, Peter Cook, Peter Davison, John McEnery, Nicholas Jones; D: Caroline Thompson; W: Caroline Thompson; C: Alex Thomson. VHS, LV, Closed Caption

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