No horses were harmed in the making of this film – Meet Mursley’s War Horse

Joey from the film War Horse at Wychwood Stud,Mursley with Daniel Naprous.'120222M-A324
Joey from the film War Horse at Wychwood Stud,Mursley with Daniel Naprous.'120222M-A324
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A MOVIE star will be guest of honour at Mursley’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

Stephen Spielberg’s epic film, War Horse is in the running for six Academy Awards including Best Picture, and was nominated for two Golden Globe Awards and five BAFTAs.

Joey from the film War Horse at Wychwood Stud,Mursley with Daniel Naprous.'120222M-A325

Joey from the film War Horse at Wychwood Stud,Mursley with Daniel Naprous.'120222M-A325

And key to the movie’s popular success is its star performer, Joey the horse.

In actual fact, there were 14 horses sharing the role of Joey in the film – two of which belong to Mursley’s very own equine stunt team, The Devil’s Horsemen.

And one of them will be making a guest appearance at the village’s evening show on June 4.

The Devil’s Horsemen supplied a total of 40 horses for War Horse, including the two beautiful bays, Rico and Sultan, who shared the role of Joey.

Joey from the film War Horse at Wychwood Stud,Mursley.'120222M-A394

Joey from the film War Horse at Wychwood Stud,Mursley.'120222M-A394

And it is local hero Sultan performing the breathtaking action sequence where Joey runs through No Man’s Land, gallops through the trenches, leaps over a rolling tank, and becomes helplessly ensnared in barbed wire.

The Devil’s Horsemen is run by father-and-son team Gerard and Daniel Naprous.

Gerard, 65, who has been in the business for over 50 years, is originally from near Paris. After first coming to the UK in 1971 to supply on-stage jousting for a Ken Dodd show in Blackpool, he met his wife and stayed.

The company has been in Mursley for the last 16 years.

But it was son Daniel, 34, who was on set for the filming of War Horse in 2010, and is on the credits of the film as Horsemaster.

With their 80 or so horses, The Devil’s Horsemen take part in lots of projects every year, from films to commercials (the black Lloyds TSB horse is one of theirs).

But War Horse was on a bigger scale altogether.

Daniel said: “It was a huge undertaking, to make a film of this size.

“Everything was challenging – just the sheer numbers of things Joey had to do.”

The film was shot entirely in the UK, on location on Dartmoor and at Stratfield Saye near Reading, the estate of the Duke of Wellington.

Trainers and horses came from all over the world.

Filming took four months, following two months of rehearsals.

And Daniel said most of the action in the film was genuine.

Of the major stunts, only Joey’s jumping of the trench was computer generated.

And director Stephen Spielberg took a personal interest in the horses’ welfare.

Daniel said: “I was working very closely with Spielberg. He was lovely, he’s one of the greats. He was fantastic to work with.

“The horses’ mental and physical state was very important to him.”

Amazingly, he added: “There was no barbed wire on that location.”

The apparent barbed wire that Sultan/Joey was tangled up in was actually carefully painted string with moulded plastic ‘barbs’ stuck on.

Daniel said: “This film was quite intense because it’s a huge undertaking of a journey for the horse.

“This genre of film hasn’t been done for a long time.

“What is so fantastic about the film is you feel for Joey, you root for Joey, you go through all this emotional journey with him but he’s never humanised – which is a great aspect of Spielberg.

“The horse always is a horse, all the way through, which I think is important.”

The Devil’s Horsemen have just finished filming Shakespeare’s Henry V for the BBC, starring Tom Hiddleston who played Captain Nicholls in War Horse.

They are now busy filming Henry IV, starring Jeremy Irons, at Ashridge, while their next project is the filming of Les Miserables in London, with Russell Crowe and Hugh Jackman.

But among all the other bookings, there’s a date in the company’s diary for ‘Joey’ to appear at Mursley’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations on Monday, June 4.

The village is putting on a spectacular schedule of events for the occasion, beginning with a parade of floats at 2pm, led by The Devil’s Horsemen with two ‘royal’ carriages.

The Devil’s Horsemen and ‘Joey’ are also performing at the ticket-only evening event, after which there is a big top extravaganza, a torchlit procession to the Jubilee Beacon lighting at 9.30pm, followed by Mursley’s own ‘last night at the proms’ starring Cheryl Hawkins, then live bands until late.

Tickets cost £20 (under-16s £10, under-fours free) must be purchased in advance, with all profits going to charity.

For a full programme, see www.mursley.net

To buy tickets, call Sandra Doherty on 01296 720609 or 07886 357615 or email doherty33@btinternet.com