My Boy Jack

When I was a girl my mother would try to get me to watch PBS with her but I wasn't much of a fan and would usually sit with my arms crossed determined not to enjoy myself. Sometimes I would even work myself into such a state that I hated Monty Python, a show I usually enjoyed, except for the cartoons, which I found creepy and disturbing. A bunch of years have gone by and I've realized my mom was absolutely right – there are loads of terrific shows on PBS. Several editions of Masterpiece, classics, contemporary and mystery, aired recently and I was struck repeatedly by how fine these productions are. I was particularly moved by My Boy Jack.

My Boy Jack tells the story of Rudyard Kipling's son Jack, who longs to go to war. When he gets his wish, which takes a lot of finagling, his entire family is thrown into despair. The film is based on a play, which in turn is based on a poem written by Rudyard Kipling. The author of the play and film, David Haig, is splendid as Rudyard. Kim Cattrall, of Sex in the City fame, plays his wife Caroline. I've never seen her in a dramatic role before and was blown away by her powerful performance. Carey Mulligan, who is getting some lovely roles, plays daughter Elsie and Daniel Radcliffe (do I need to mention his stint as Harry Potter?) is utterly convincing as son Jack.

Jack has only one goal, to go and fight in the Great War, which is just beginning. He is seventeen years old and his vision is terrible; so bad that he flunks his medical three times, while applying to two branches of the service. His father finally uses his influence to get Jack into the service and Jack goes off to war as a Lieutenant. He leads his men on what looked like a futile mission to me, trying to take a machine gun nest, on the day after his eighteenth birthday. The day is a disaster and Jack's family gets a telegram stating he's missing.

His mother becomes a powerhouse, using every bit of her husband's influence to try and find her son. She sorts through thousands of photographs, not once, but twice, hoping her boy is being held as a prisoner of war. She insists on being allowed to call every day to get any new information instead of waiting at home like a dutiful woman should. She interviews soldier after soldier, listening to very painful stories. These scenes were heartrending but I loved seeing Caroline, a woman in a society that gave women very little power, coming into her own, gaining new skills and pushing beyond what's expected of her.

My Boy Jack is terrific on many levels. The directing and cinematography are outstanding. The writing is superb and David Haig excels as he says his own lines. Much of the film was shot in Kipling's actual house, which brings another layer to the film, and added poignancy to the actors as they worked. (The version I saw finished with a behind the scenes look which included a segment with Daniel Radcliffe talking about his feelings at walking where Jack actually walked.) The actors particularly shine when portraying grief, a great and terrible emotion that can manifest in an almost unlimited number of ways. I've seen actors gently sobbing into their hands and I've seen them on their knees, howling in pain. Either of these can work or either of them can look ridiculous, depending on the strength of the performer.

I tried to watch a movie starring an Oscar winning actress a week or so ago but she's had so much Botox she's lost all ability to emote with her eyes, or even her forehead. I don't understand why anyone would cripple themselves like this. Why throw away one of the most valuable tools you have? Any actor who is thinking they can get along with body language and voice alone should watch the scene where the Kiplings finally get news of their missing boy Jack.

Ms. Cattrall states one of the reasons she made the film is because her nephew wants to go to war and she feels he has romanticized the idea of war. She knew he would go see anything she is in and hoped that he would get the message about the horror of war. I thought the film did an excellent job showing both sides of this issue; both the longing of a young man to do his duty and fight for glory and honor as well as showing the pain his mother and sister, and eventually his father, go through as they try to support his decision. It's a complicated issue that's treated with respect.

One-Paragraph Review

This week's one-paragraph review is from Kendra the Vampire Slayer who wrote in to say, "Is anyone going to go see the new Buffy reboot? Seems like everyone hates it, even the actors from the show. What a dumb idea." Do you have a one-paragraph (or smaller) review you'd like to share? Send it in to me for consideration. You can reach me at feedback@qualitytimeweekly.com.