“MY BOY JACK” (2007) Review

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“MY BOY JACK” (2007) Review

The origin for the 2007 television movie, “MY BOY JACK” goes back quite a ways. Back in 1915, British author Rudyard Kipling wrote a poem as a response to the news that his only son John (also known as “Jack”) had been reported missing after the Battle of Loos. Eighty-two years later, actor David Haig produced, wrote and starred a play, based upon the circumstances behind Kipling’s poem. And Haig did the same for the television adaptation of his play, ten years later.

“MY BOY JACK” begins during the summer of 1914, when Great Britain enters World War I. Seventeen year-old Jack Kipling attempts to join the Royal Navy in England’s war against Germany and Austria. His father, Rudyard Kipling encourages his desire to fight and uses his role as one of the country’s war propagandists to make several arrangements for Jack to enlist in either the Navy or the Army. But Jack’s poor eyesight proves to be a detriment. Finally, Kipling succeeds in securing Jack an officer’s commission as a Second Lieutenant in the Irish Guards. Both Jack’s mother Carrie and sister Elsie disapprove of this assignment, as they fear he might be deployed to the front line. Jack proves to be a popular officer with his troops, while he undergoes military training. Within six months, his regiment travels to France. And on his 18th birthday, Jack and his platoon participate in the Battle of Loos. After he is reported missing in action after the battle, the Kiplings become determined to learn of Jack’s fate.

I did consider reading other reviews of “MY BOY JACK” and ended up reading only one. Other than a comment on Daniel Radcliffe’s performance, I found the article irrelevant. I realized that my only concern should be my opinion. I must say that I found the television movie very interesting. I rarely watch movies about World War I. It is not that I found them boring. But I have noticed that films and television productions about World War I tend to be a little darker than movies about other past wars . . . even Vietnam War movies. Before one assumes that “MY BOY JACK” is lighter than other movies I have seen about the war, it is not. Anyone reading my summary of the film’s plot could easily surmise that “MY BOY JACK” is not only based upon history, but is also a rather dark and tragic tale.

I would not consider “MY BOY JACK” one of the best World War I productions I have ever seen. It certainly is not one of my favorites. My problem is that I found the second half of the movie a bit too limiting for my tastes. The 1997 play ended with the Kiplings finally putting Jack’s death to rest by the 1920s and Kipling fearing the possibility of a new war with Germany by the 1930s. The 2007 movie ended on a different note, with the Kiplings learning about Jack’s death from one of his men by the end of the war. This left television audiences with a stiff upper lip ending in which Kipling finally deals with the loss of his son in a different manner. In the scene, Kipling emotionally connects with his king and friend, George V, while the latter remembers his youngest son Prince John, who had died two months after the war’s end. I honestly wish that Haig had adhered closer to the play’s ending. I believe it would have given the movie’s second half a bit more substance.

However, the movie does feature some memorable moments. Most of those moments featured scenes between members of the Kipling family. In one early scene between Kipling and Jack, I found it interesting that although both father and son agreed over the latter’s desire to join the military, there seemed to be some kind of tension . . . at least from Jack. His behavior reminded me of something his sister Elsie said in another outstanding dramatic scene – that Jack’s true reason for joining the military was to escape the family and the shadow of his father’s fame. The movie also featured excellent scenes conveying Jack’s training with the Irish Guards, the Kiplings’ emotional debates over Jack’s fate and the King’s mournful recollection of his recently deceased son. But I feel that the movie’s most powerful scene was the Kiplings’ discovery of Jack’s fate through the recollections of a soldier who had served in their son’s platoon. Between Private Bowe’s guilt and regret, the Kiplings’ reaction and the flashbacks that revealed Jack’s fate, I thought it was an outstanding sequence.

Those memorable scenes would have never been possible by the first-rate actors and actresses that made up the cast. All of them gave excellent performances, including supporting cast members like Martin Freeman and Julian Wadham, who skillfully portrayed the guilt-ridden Private Bowe and the quietly grieving King George V. But the best performances came from the four cast members who portrayed members of the Kipling family. David Haig was incredibly intense as the emotional and somewhat intimidating Rudyard Kipling. For a moment, I feared he would eventually become hammy, but he managed to keep his performance under control. I read somewhere that Kim Cattrall had received mixed reviews for her portrayal of Kipling’s American-born wife, Caroline. I found this rather shocking for I thought her performance was excellent and a lot more subtle than Haig’s. I suspect many critics and viewers were incapable of overlooking her character from HBO’s “SEX AND THE CITY”. How pathetic. Carey Mulligan gave a strong hint of her exceptional talent in her portrayal of Kipling’s outspoken daughter, Elsie. Although Daniel Radcliffe received positive reviews, I did come across one reviewer who found the young actor unconvincing as Jack Kipling. As it turned out, the reviewer could not reconcile Radcliffe in any role other than Harry Potter. I, on the other hand, had no problems with Radcliffe’s portrayal of Jack Kipling. In fact, I thought he gave a superb performance,

“MY BOY JACK” featured some outstanding performances and powerful scenes. And yet, it failed to become one of the best World War I dramas, thanks to a less-than-satisfying ending. I really wish that Haig and director Brian Kirk had adhere a lot closer to the stage version’s original ending. Oh well . . . it is still a movie worth viewing.

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