Friday, April 25, 2008

Masterpiece Theatre: My Boy Jack

I have never been one to cry over movies. The only ones that have ever brought me anywhere close to tears are Where the Red Fern Grows, The Great Escape, and Masterpiece's The Lost Prince. Now added to the ranks is My Boy Jack, which is probably one of the mot powerful Masterpiece works that I have ever seen.

My Boy Jack gives us a glimpse into the life of the beloved author and poet Rudyard Kipling. Most of us know this man simply as the creator of The Jungle Books and The Just So Stories, but Kipling was also a classic Victorian/Edwardian man whose patriotic fervor and belief in the British Empire ran strong. He is eager for his young son, John (a.k.a. Jack) to enter the military, especially after World War I begins, and Jack's desire to fight is no less strong, if not quite as confident. Jack is routinely turned down by various branches due to his extreme nearsightedness, but Kipling has every confidence in his son's abilities, and finally uses his fame and popularity to get Jack into the Irish Guards. So begins a long and emotional journey, not only for Jack, but for the entire Kipling family.

Daniel Radcliffe, as Jack, masterfully portrays a young man who has the desire to fight for his country, yet lacks the confidence that his father has in him. By the time Jack heads to France, he is the commander of a company and has not only gained confidence in himself, but has also learned to instill it in others, proving that Kipling's confidence in his son was not misplaced. Radcliffe does a wonderful job, and if this is any evidence, he will have no trouble leaving his "Harry Potter" image behind.

David Haig not only played Kipling in both this film and the play version, he wrote also the script for both. His interest in Kipling began when he was told how much he resembled the famous author (and indeed, the resemblance is uncanny as is Daniel Radcliffe's to Jack). Haig plays Kipling as a huge ball of energy, whether he is racing to Buckingham Palace in his Rolls-Royce (being timed by King George V), giving thundering patriotic speeches, or telling stories to children. It is indeed the times when he is telling stories that we catch a glimpse of the Kipling of our imagination. My favorite scenes are when he and his wife Carrie are laying in bed and he looks over and says "Would you like a story?". But by the end of the movie, that energy is waning under the pressure of Kipling's grief and guilt, and one gets the sense that like the rest of England, the sparkle and hope of Kipling's Victorian mindset is gone. Though he is still a strong patriot and is proud of his son's heroic sacrifice, he wonders just how much of that sacrifice was really necessary and how much of it was his fault.

The relationship between Kipling and Jack is also beautifully portrayed (though I am sure there was a bit of artistic license taken). Jack is eager to fight, but it isn't entirely because he shares his fathers ideals. Like most 17 year old boys, he is desperate to get out of his parents house and from under his father's rather overbearing parenting. Kipling is rather opinionated and does not shy from giving his son advice, even when it is unwanted. He almost seems to see getting Jack into the service as a father/son project, like building a kite or repairing a car. But when the time comes for Jack to sail for France, they are both ready for him to go. In a hauntingly beautiful scene Jack and Kipling are walking to the car as Jack prepares to leave. Somewhere between the house and the car, Jack assumes Kipling's gait and cadence, and you realize that these two are not as different as they once seemed.

Kim Catrall and Carey Mulligan round out the cast as Caroline and Elsie Kipling. Though both of them strongly oppose Jack's fighting, they soon throw themselves into the war effort. Once it is discovered that Jack is missing, Carrie shows as much energy as her husband as she tirelessly searches for any clues that might help her find her son.

My Boy Jack is a story, not just about the Kiplings, but about every family that has been touched by war. It is a glimpse into the lives of the countless young men who have left their homes and families to serve their countries, never to return. Perhaps this is what makes it such a powerful film; it is a true story.
Note: This film contains some language and a couple disturbing war scenes.

My Boy Jack
by Rudyard Kipling

“Have you news of my boy Jack?”
Not this tide.
“When d’you think that he’ll come back?”
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.
“Has any one else had word of him?”
Not this tide.
For what is sunk will hardly swim,
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.
“Oh, dear, what comfort can I find?”
None this tide,
Nor any tide,
Except he did not shame his kind—
Not even with that wind blowing, and that tide.
Then hold your head up all the more,
This tide,
And every tide;
Because he was the son you bore,
And gave to that wind blowing and that tide!

1 comment:

Hannah said...

Agreed! My Boy Jack was a very powerful and well-made movie. It clearly showed that when a soldier goes to war and dies, he is not the only person making a sacrifice. His family at home suffers, too!

I also found it interesting that Jack Kipling shares my birthday! =)