Black Beauty is a 1994 film adaptation of Anna Sewell's novel by the same name directed by Caroline Thompson in her directorial debut. The film stars Andrew Knott, Sean Bean and David Thewlis. The film is also treated as an autobiography of the horse Black Beauty as in the original novel, and is narrated by Alan Cumming as the voice of the 'Black Beauty'. This is the fifth feature film adaptation of the 1877 classic novel by Anna Sewell.
Black Beauty (voiced by Alan Cumming; played by Docs Keepin Time) narrates his own story. He is born on a farm in the English countryside and remains by his mother's side until he is sent to Birtwick Park to serve Squire Gordon and his family.
Lady Gordon, the squire's ill wife, is pleased by the beautiful horse and gives him his trademark name, Black Beauty. Beauty is smitten with the squire's bitter chestnut mare, Ginger, who rebuffs his attempts to be friendly. However, Beauty also befriends Merrylegs, a perky grey pony who gives rides to the squire's young daughters, Jessica and Molly.
On a stormy night, Beauty is pulling a carriage holding the squire and his caretaker, John Manly (Jim Carter), home from town, but sensing danger refuses to cross a partially flooded bridge. When John tries to pull him to move, Beauty steadfastly refuses. When the bridge finally gives way, crashing into the river, John slips and falls in, but manages to hang on to Beauty's bridle. Beauty and the squire save John, and they again head off back home.
Young Joe Green, who works in the stable, volunteers to look after Beauty that night. Joe's lack of knowledge about horses causes him to give Beauty ice cold water to drink and to neglect to dry him off or cover him with a rug for overnight, which causes Beauty to fall ill. The following few days John, Joe, and the squire treat and nurse Beauty, and he recovers.
Lady Gordon's illness gets worse, and she is taken to a doctor in a carriage pulled by Beauty and Ginger. When they stop at an inn for the night, the barn where the horses are being kept catches on fire due to a carelessly dropped pipe. Joe rescues the horses.
Lady Gordon's doctor orders her to leave England for a warmer place because her illness is so advanced. The squire and his family bid a sad goodbye to John, Joe, and the beloved horses. Merrylegs is given to the vicar who promises never to sell the pony.
Beauty and Ginger are taken to Earlshall Park, home of the Lord and Lady of Wexmire, and Joe bids a tearful goodbye to Beauty. Beauty and Ginger are paired up to pull Lady Wexmire's carriage, but she demands that the horses wear uncomfortable bearing reins to raise their heads high, which angers Ginger. When the next day Lady Wexmire orders the horse's heads be strapped up even further, Ginger breaks away from the carriage in a rage. Lady Wexmire never calls for Ginger to pull her carriages again.
Reuben Smith, the horses' new caretaker, rides to town with Beauty to take a carriage to be repainted. He becomes drunk at the local tavern. He nevertheless roughly rides Beauty home, who is losing one of his shoes. When the shoe finally falls off, Beauty stumbles and throws Reuben off the saddle, causing both rider and horse to suffer injuries. Both are found the next morning by Wexmire's men. Reuben is dismissed from his job, and Beauty is later sold by Lord Wexmire due to his disfigured knees.
He is bought by a man who keeps horses for renting, but treats them terribly. Beauty is eventually taken to a fair, where he briefly spots Joe, now a grown-up, but Joe doesn't notice him. Beauty's whinnies instead catch the attention of Jerry Barker, a taxi carriage driver from London, who's immediately taken by Beauty and buys him once successfully haggling the cost down to 17 guineas.
Jerry introduces Beauty to his warm family - wife and two young children, who name him Black Jack. Though Beauty dislikes the harshness of London, he nevertheless likes his job as a taxi cab horse and Jerry's kind treatment of him. One day, Beauty spots and reunites with Ginger, now a cab horse, but has suffered from years of abuse by her owner. Beauty begs for her not to give up, but too soon she's led away by her owner on a fare. Some time later, Beauty spots her dead body on a wagon, her troubles finally over.
One snowy night, Jerry has a dreadful cough that worsens as he's kept waiting for hours outdoors in the freezing weather for his passengers to leave a party. His condition then worsens and a doctor advises him to quit his job and move to the countryside. Beauty is reluctantly sold to a grain dealer where he's forced to pull heavy loads of flour. For two years of pulling heavy carts, he collapses from utter exhaustion.
He is taken to a fair to be sold, but he is now so weak and in poor condition that no one wants to buy him. Then Farmer Thoroughgood and his grandson spot Beauty, and a young man sees him, too. Beauty realizes that the young man is Joe, and though he's hardly able to, he finds the strength and whinnies for his old friend and the two are finally reunited.
Beauty lives the remainder of his life at Thoroughgood's farm with Joe, who promises that he will never sell Beauty.
- Docs Keepin Time as Black Beauty (horse)
- Alan Cumming as Black Beauty (voice)
- Andrew Knott (Ian Kelsey, older) as Joe Green
- Sean Bean as Farmer Grey
- David Thewlis as Jerry Barker
- Jim Carter as John Manly
- Peter Davison as Squire Gordon
- Alun Armstrong as Reuben Smith
- John McEnery as Mr. York
- Eleanor Bron as Lady Wexmire
- Peter Cook as Lord Wexmire
- Keeley Flanders as Dolly Barker
- Niall O'Brien as Farmer Thoroughgood
Despite commercial failure, Black Beauty received mixed to positive reviews upon its release. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 78% of 9 critics have given the film a positive review, with a rating average of 6.6 out of 10.
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film a mediocre review reacting negatively towards the horse's voice over stating that "it plays like a cross between New Age mysticism and anthropomorphism run amok." Similarly, Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly found the narration to have "the effect of making a basically charming story go drippy." However, she concluded her review on a positive note, saying that "girls will inevitably love all this."
The film did poorly in the box office, grossing only $4,630,377 domestically.
- Main article: Black Beauty (soundtrack)