My son, the hero…
Telling a story that mirrors some of our lives, this film tells of the author Rudyard Kipling, his family and in particular his only son, Jack. Jack Kipling died in battle in the early days of World War I.
Daniel Radcliffe My Boy Jack 2007 trailer, RadcliffeGrint2016
Rudyard Kipling, was an author of many poems and stories of young boys in adventure tales as The Jungle Book and Kim. Rudyard’s most poignant and heartfelt tale, based on his true personal story was told in the poem My Boy Jack. This believed to be a cathartic poem telling of the loss of his only son Jack in World War I. The film My Boy Jack (2007), telling the story of Rudyard Kipling and his family from just before his only son Jack enlists to the war to the aftermath of his death at the Battle of Loos.
As a kid in Scotland, I had studied World War I in history and English lessons at secondary school. This through what were then difficult to remember facts and figures such as battles and dates in the former and the Great War Poets, Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, in the latter. The Great War poems made much more impact on me, with many with their author’s true tales in rhyme.
Fastforward a few years, and I watched Shadowlands (1993), the story of C S Lewis (Anthony Hopkins), and his love for the American poet Joy Gresham (Debra Winger). This one of the first true biopics I remember that made an impression on me (but there were no doubt more) in this tale of Lewis’ love and loss of his beloved Joy to illness. Again with this film based on a true story got my interest.
Since then, I’ve lived, loved, laughed and at times lost with many a real life scientist, inventor, actor or actress through this particular film and TV genre. I’ve celebrated the subject’s highs, been saddened by their lows in their life stories. But always taking note of that it is based on a true story. Leading to loads of subsequent searches to find out all the facts. This in the world of film and TV true biopics about Beatrix Potter (Miss Potter (2006)) to Judy Garland (2001)) and films about (and titled) Ed Wood (1994) to Eddie the Eagle (2015).
Without a doubt, this my favourite genre both on-screen and in books, be it autobiography or biographical tributes. So my Darlin Husband brought my love of history and these films by suggesting I review this TV Movie, based on a true story that I hadn’t heard before. In this TV Movie the actor David Haig, brings to life on the wee screen adaptation of his 1997 play based on this true story.
It starts in England in 1914 with two simultaneous stories of the Kipling men, Rudyard (Haig) and his son Jack (Daniel Radcliffe). Rudyard visiting the then King George V. The pair jovially celebrating his quick journey time from his home to Windsor as timed by the King. The pair briefly exchange news on their sons. The King is aware of Kipling’s passionate anti-German feelings with Kipling’s outspoken concerns that Britain will be invaded by Germany. Meanwhile, Jack hopes to join the British Navy to fight the Germans. His interviewer telling Jack that he is a fan of his father’s books. Jack who wears spectacles for his poor eyesight, struggles without his spectacles at the eye test.
However Jack is turned down for the Navy as he is severely short-sighted. This riling his father, who has strong anti-German feelings believing anyone who is keen to fight for his country should. With Rudyard sharing his views and fears through propaganda and speeches. Undeterred – yet devastated – by his recent failed interview, Jack then hopes to join the army. But this on his own terms and not due to his father’s fame or influence. Again his bad eyesight lets him down. The interviewer reporting concerns for both his and others lives in battle. After his father pulls a few strings, Jack is accepted for a officer’s commission as a Second Lieutenant in the Irish Guards.
This news is much to the dismay of his wife (Kim Cattrall) and young daughter Elsie (Corey Mulligan). Elsie believes Jack is being unduly coerced by their father, Carrie concerned due to Jack’s young age as he is 17 – and due to this he has to request his fathers approval to go to war with Rudyard agreeing to this – and eyesight difficulties. Its revealed that the family was once five, with a daughter passed away. Jack has a closer relationship with his sister. In a scene with the siblings, Jack confiding he hopes for adventure away from the stifling atmosphere in the family home.
After he joins the troops, Jack proves himself a worthy soldier, with his dedication and determination during training. In charge of his platoon, he proves supportive and emphatic to his men’s needs and a strong leader. After a short time he is deployed to France, with him leading his men to the battle at Loos. The day after his birthday celebrations with his men, Jack is reported as missing in action after leading his platoon into battle.
The family are informed of this in a telegram. The Kipling family left to piece together Jack’s moments in this battle. Over three years the family hope against hope, contact hospitals, interview his colleagues and others in the vain hope that Jack is still alive. They piece together his movements. And on interviewing one of the Irish Guards he was with in battle, learn the sad details of Jack heroic death. With Jack losing his glasses in the mud at Loos and shot by enemy gunfire.
This tale cumulating with Haig reciting Kipling’s poem, My Boy Jack. This in a retelling of the initial scene where Rudyard and King George V meet, here the pair unite in grief of their losses. Both now reporting both their sons passing away at a young age. This a sharp contrast to their initial scenes of the movie.
This film was respectfully and touchingly played by this small cast. Firstly those actresses, As Carrie, Kim Cattrall, an actress I’m familiar with through her roles as the love interest in 80s movies and her small role in a Star Trek film. Here Cattrall showed a sweet, supportive and emphatic maternal performance. Mulligan played her role as Elsie showing her views from a young girl losing her only sibling. Her anger at her father and the situation credible and believably played in this early a film role for this actress.
Special mention goes to the actors in this cast. For me – dare I say it as not a big fan of that Harry Potter franchise – Radcliffe shook this his most famous role off his shoulders for good. This with his excellent acting and his natural performance which I believe is the best I’ve seen from him. He made me believe in his character, and see him as a young man, soldier, brother and son in this a clear departure from that fantasy film series. His chemistry with all the cast was evident and he showed a instinctive performance. His scenes with Mulligan tender and his final scenes showing Jack Kipling’s death were respectfully acted and heartbreaking to watch knowing the outcome.
Haig, who I’d only seen in a comic role in Four Weddings an a Funeral (1994) showed us the different sides to Rudyard Kipling. At his most inspiring in his impassioned speeches, to his pride of his son as he agrees to him leaving for battle in Loos, and to his final and tragic accepting of his loss after hearing of Jack’s last movements. Haig’s recital of the poem in the final scene, was heartbrendingly delivered. This all the more poignant knowing Kipling was one of many, many fathers in many, many families and this a familiar tale to others worldwide. All the supporting actors to this cast gave strong performances in this true story.
So despite Sassoon and Owen both making an impression on my younger self this topic I feel would have made more of an impact had Kipling’s poetic tribute in My Boy Jack been included in that list of War poets from World War I. With Kipling an author that my then younger childhood self would have recalled from clips seen from The Jungle Book (1967) movie, this would reinforce those wartime experiences.
This film showing that individuals can be affected by wars, be it in families with all sorts from different views and beliefs, backgrounds and from different countries. Within this movie, this family showing feelings and experiences echoed by others families. The Kiplings seen as a family at war with each other with their opposing views on battle, which this film illustrates so effectively. This through a son’s hopes for adventure, a father’s pride, a mother’s fears and a sister’s anger.. that although wars mean different things to different people, but we are all united in grief.
Weeper Rating: 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦 /10
Handsqueeze Rating: 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 /10
Hulk Rating: 0 /10
My Boy Jack – End Poem, whatsername 707
This TV Movie was reviewed for Maddy Loves Her Classic Films The World War One on Film Blogathon. Other reviews with this cast include David Haig in Four Weddings and a Funeral. Kim Cattrall is reviewed in Mannequin and Star Trek VI The Undiscovered Country. Corey Mulligan appears in my post for The Great Gatsby.