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In 1914 the wolves were almost literally at England’s door and one man knew he must act to rally the nation against the oncoming German threat—Rudyard Kipling.
Famous for his novel Kim and The Jungle Book series, Kipling was one of the most important and influential supporters of England at the dawn of the First World War. He rallied the men and women of England and called for every able-bodied man to join the armed services to defend his country.
Unfortunately, his son John didn’t qualify because of his extremely poor eyesight. This doesn’t sit well with Rudyard who wants his son to experience the glory of war, or with Jack, who desires to do his part for his country and at the same time find a way to distinguish himself from his famous father.
It would be easy to portray Kipling as a fool with grandiose notions of war and service who put his son at risk for no good reason; however the situation was much more complex than that, and the movie does a great job of showing the many sides of the issue from the pressure of patriotism to the very real need for soldiers on the battlefield. The tragedy of the story isn’t necessarily Kipling’s decision to use his influence as a famous writer to get his unfit son into the army, or Jack’s decision to go off to war in the first place; instead the tragedy is the situation that made such decisions necessary.
Although this movie features a stellar cast, undoubtedly the actor who will receive the most attention is Daniel Radcliffe. Like most actors who have been involved in a majorly successful series, Radcliffe has been striving to differentiate himself from the role he’s now famous for, such as starring in a stage production of Equus where he received quite a bit of attention because of his nude scene. Unfortunately, the role of John “Jack” Kipling probably won’t do much to separate Radcliffe from Harry Potter.
Jack is a frustrated young man who feels caged by a celebrity he didn’t really earn (in this case being the son of a famous writer). He smolders with barely-concealed frustration and desperately wants to find a way out so he can create his own identity. He’s a caring individual with a strong desire to protect the people he cares for, and he possesses a strong sense of right and wrong. This, of course, could describe Harry Potter just as well as it does Jack Kipling, and while the comparison may not necessarily be fair, it’s one that many people will probably make. This is unfortunate because Radcliffe’s portrayal of Jack is significantly different from his portrayal of Potter and he may not receive the recognition he deserves for this role.
The movie was presented in widescreen 16:9 Enhanced aspect ratio, and while the video was clear with no discernible problems, it does have the unmistakable look of a BBC production, which may throw off viewers unfamiliar with that style. The sound was Dolby Digital stereo, and naturally the sound stayed in the center track with no real directionality. There were also no discernible problems with the audio.
Deleted Scenes (cumulative running time: 6:18)
The deleted scenes really don’t add anything to the production, and it’s pretty clear why the editor decided to cut them from the finished product. However, there was one interesting scene where Kipling was called a murderer at one of his rallies; this would have been an interesting scene to keep in because it’s the only one that shows how the nation reacts to his rabble-rousing.
Interviews (running time: 24:16)
Daniel Radcliffe, David Haig, and Kim Cattrall were interviewed about the production and each had something interesting to say about Kipling, Jack, and war in general.
Considering how little I knew about Rudyard Kipling’s actual life, I found this very interesting. Beyond this insight into his life, though, My Boy Jack is a movie that focuses on the very real and very personal cost of war. It raises difficult questions about sacrifice and nationalism and is smart enough not to give answers. Recommended.
BBC Video presents My Boy Jack. Directed by Brian Kirk. Starring David Haig, Daniel Radcliffe, Carey Mulligan, Julian Wadham, Martin McCann, and Kim Cattrall. Written by David Haig. Running time: 120 minutes. Unrated. Released on DVD: April 22, 2008. Available at Amazon.com.