Friday, July 25, 2014



                “My Boy Jack” is a television production of the play by David Haig that premiered in 2007.  Haig wrote the screenplay and stars as Rudyard Kipling.  In a great marketing move, Harry Potter was cast as Kipling’s son Jack.  The movie does not include the full third act of the play which carries the story into the 1930s. 

                The movie opens in Great Britain in 1914.  When WWI breaks out, chip-off-the-old-block Jack is insistent on enlisting for the great adventure.  Rudyard is not only supportive, but upset when Jack can’t get in because of bad eyesight.  Kipling is working at the Propaganda Ministry and is pushing for all good Englishmen to donate their sons.  When the first casualty figures come in he argues that publishing them will have the salutary effect of shaming men into joining the Army.  Putting his son where his mouth is, the elder Kipling pulls strings to get Jack into the big show.  Jack’s mother (Kim Cattrell) is upset, but British females have stiff upper lips, too.  Jack goes off to boot camp and becomes an effective and popular officer.  He still needs daddy’s help to get fast-tracked into the big upcoming push at Loos.  Can you guess what happens to the poster boy for dead meat?
the Kiplings

                “My Boy Jack” is a commendable work.  It manages to breaks the bonds of the stage and yet retains the quality dialogue.  The scenery around the Kipling home is beautiful and the trench set is realistic.  The movie makes a point of shifting back and forth from the Western Front to the home front.  Quite a contrast!    We also get the shifting perspectives of the two male Kiplings.  Not as much of a contrast here as both are gung-ho.  The combat scene features “Band of Brothers” style cinematography and is well-done.  It is a powerful scene as it intercuts with the Kiplings learning of the fate of their son.  Now on to the big question – how is Daniel Radcliffe?  He is actually pretty good, although Haig takes the acting honors.  Radcliffe’s performance bodes well for the upcoming “All Quiet…” 

This ain't quidditch
The story is meant to be thought provoking, but it is a bit simplistic and pulls its punches in the end.  It ends up not being as anti-war as it should have been.  Instead of contrasting the patriotism of Rudyard to the motherly instincts of his wife, the movie has Mrs. Kipling stoically accepting her son’s death and Rudyard justifying it.  The play goes up to the storm clouds of WWII and has Kipling wondering whether his son died in vain.  The movie is an accurate retelling of the Kiplings in WWI, so I guess Rudyard was a poor father, in my opinion.  I feel that it’s one thing to support the war effort, it’s another thing to pull strings to get your son in harm’s way.  If he’s going to get killed, don’t abet it.

GRADE  =  C+
HISTORICAL ACCURACY:  Kipling was  strong supporter of British entry into WWI.  He volunteered to work for the propaganda ministry and he wrote popular pamphlets boosting the war effort.  He glorified the military and described the war as civilization versus barbarism and the Germans were less than human.  As the work progressed, he became critical of the army, complaining that it had not learned the lessons from the Boer War.  The movie includes a seen where an old general tells Kipling the lessons were "speed, surprise, and variety".  (I don't believe that old vet had been to the Western Front.)  He really pushed for young men to enlist and basically tried to shame them into joining.  He did not make an exception for his own son, like a lot of politicians did.  John (nicknamed Jack in the movie) did fail his physicals due to myopia.  The movie makes it clear that the army and navy were correct to turn him down.  Rudyard visited Lord Roberts, former CINC, to get John into the Irish Guards.  (It's not like Kipling did not know stories could have unhappy endings - see "The Man Who Would Be King".)  John was killed in the Battle of Loos in 1917.  His death actually came six weeks after his eighteenth birthday, not the day after.  He was last seen stumbling blindly (told you so, said the army and navy doctors) forward in no man's land.  The movie concocted a scenario depicting him charging a machine gun.  It's unlikely he died like Col. Shaw of the 54th Massachusetts.  His parents did spend a lot of effort trying to locate the body, but it was not identified until 1992.  The movie accurately portrays Rudyard shouldering some of the blame, but he did not become a pacifist. 

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