In this modern day reimagining of Anna Sewell’s timeless classic, we follow Black Beauty, a wild horse born free in the American West. Rounded up and taken away from her family, Beauty is brought to Birtwick Stables where she meets a spirited teenage girl, Jo Green. Beauty and Jo forge an unbreakable bond that carries Beauty through the different chapters, challenges, and adventures of her life.
Cast: Mackenzie Foy, Kate Winslet, Claire Forlani, Iain Glen, Fern Deacon, Calam Lynch
Director: Ashley Avis
Writers: Ashley Avis (Screenplay by), Anna Sewell (Based on Black Beauty by)
There are very few properties that have been re-adapted a vast number of times, but here we are in 2020 with the 10th adaptation of Black Beauty to hit the big screen, the tv screen or, in this case, digital screens. Disney’s new adaptation of the 1877 novel by Anna Sewell modernises the much-loved property and relocates the titular horse to the United States of America.
Beauty (voiced by Kate Winslet via narration) is a black mustang who is separated from her family when her herd is corralled by humans. She is rescued by John Manly (Iain Glen), a horse whisper who oversees the training program at Birtwick Stables. John struggles to break-in Beauty who is untrusting of people after her previous experience. John is also struggling to work with his niece Jo (Mackenzie Foy) who has just come to live with him after her parent’s sudden death. Soon Jo and Beauty start to help each other heal and bond with each other.
The film, much like the book sees Beauty moving from owner to owner. Beauty is briefly trained as a dressage horse, works as a rescue horse, pulls carriages and even works on a farm. Of course, Beauty only desires to be with Jo and Jo trying to save up enough money to buy Beauty back. This part of the film feels very differently paced to the rest of the film. We spend an hour or so developing the relationship between Jo and Beauty and then spend the last 30 minutes watching what is almost a series of vignettes of Beauty with characters who we barely get to know. It is a jarring shift from the slow build in the first two-thirds of the film and makes me question whether this would have been better serviced as a mini-series.
While the core of the film is the relationship between Jo and Beauty, I really enjoyed the development of the relationship between John and Jo. Iain Glen is really enjoyable in this role watching him earn Jo and Beauty’s trust was a wholesome experience. Mackenzie Foy does a solid job as the emotional centre of the film and Kate Winslet gives a great voice to Beauty’s thoughts and insights. Calam Lynch is a standout of the rest of the cast as George Winthorp, the handsome rich boy who is drawn to Jo. Claire Forlani is also good as the mean Mrs. Winthorp, a woman who named her children George and Georgina. Evil.