With the new adaptation of Black Beauty coming to Disney Plus, director Ashley Avis and actors Kate Winslet, Iain Glen, and Mackenzie Foy prove there are still good horse movies to be made.
“When our producers wanted to remake Black Beauty, they wanted two things: to modernize the story and to make Black Beauty female,” says Ashley Avis, who directed and wrote the screenplay for the new adaptation of the classic horse tale due out on Disney Plus late this year.
The producers got their wish — and more.
Produced by Constantin Film and JB Pictures, the newly reimagined Black Beauty revolves around a wild mustang born in the American West, captured, and taken from her family; and Jo Green, a 17-year-old girl grieving the loss of both parents, who is healed by the horse-human bond. It stars Oscar winner Kate Winslet, voicing the inner thoughts of the horse; Mackenzie Foy (Interstellar) as Jo Green; and Iain Glen (Game of Thrones) as horse whisperer John Manly.
“Having grown up with the book, which had such a big impact on my life, I wanted to honor as many parallels as I could find in a modern light — the original characters, the messages,” Avis says. “What I didn’t want to do was just take the idea and change everything.” She struggled the most with the origin of the titular horse: “What would be the parallel now of an 1800s carriage horse in London?”
In researching Anna Sewell’s 1877 novel, Avis discovered that the English writer’s mission was to improve the treatment of horses of her day by writing a story that would help people empathize with the plight of the animals in Victorian England. “She was a trailblazer for the horses of her time,” Avis says. “Reading about the wild-horse issue and what is going on now, I felt like we could do the same thing with Black Beauty, to help horses of our time. In our version, Beauty was born a wild horse, was rounded up in the American West, and taken away from her family. She then goes to Birtwick Stables, and we introduce the world of those characters from the book in more a modern light.”
Sewell’s novel is now almost 150 years old. Although she intended it for adults — mainly to engender kindness and sympathy in people who worked with horses in Victorian England — it’s today considered a children’s classic and remains a bestselling children’s novel. One of the first novels in the English language to be told from an animal’s point of view, the story foreshadowed natural horsemanship in its advocacy for kinder, gentler treatment of horses and its view that animals are not just beasts of burden but sentient beings who are able to develop a rapport with humans…(CONTINUED)