My Boy Jack: A Young Man Fights for His Country
BBC Video (2008)
DVD, 120 minutes
This film is the result of a stage play which finally made it to the screen. It was shown as a part of Masterpiece Theater on television. Though it did not play in American theaters do not let that fool you about the value of this excellent film. It includes some wonderful star power and is, quite simply, a superb movie. Jack, who was the young son of the famous author Rudyard Kipling, entered the British army before he turned 18 and this in spite of his nearsightedness. His physical condition should have kept him in a clerical job and spared him from the front lines of a brutal war where people died in massive numbers for over four years. Think about this simple fact: On a given day as many as 20,000 British soldiers died on the front lines of World War I. In our entire Iraq experience we are still just over 3,000 military deaths. (I am not in any way diminishing these sacrifices in the least, just providing a social context for what Britain went through.)
Rudyard Kipling was a great nationalist and loved the British Empire. He pushed people hard to sign on for the war. He wanted his son to be in the Navy from birth. He wanted Jack to fight so badly that he got his wish by working the system in order to get him into the army as a lieutenant, all after the Navy had rejected him. Jack died only one day after his 18th birthday but it took eighteen months for his family to be sure that he had died. (The movie shows this period as six months to make it fit the film genre and length.) Jack was an amazing young man. His parents grief is mightily shown in a moving way. The setting is the real home of the Kipling family, which adds historical context to the film.
The Great War is shown here for what it really was, a mixture of necessity and foolishness. Britain was so unprepared that she lost massive casualties and had no clear strategy for several years into the war. In the end she prevailed but the costs were so great that an entire generation was deeply impacted by death and suffering. (This story is parallel to our effort in Iraq where our strategy was militarily poor until we changed direction over a year ago and began to see declining death numbers and dramatic success.)
What makes this story work is the moving portrait of a real family dealing with a real ugly war and the scars of a painful death. Kipling is wonderfully played by David Haig (Four Weddings and a Funeral) and his wife is played, just as well really, by Kim Cattrall (Sex in the City).
The role of Jack is played by Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter). Radcliffe turns in a marvelous adult performance after his many staring roles as a child in the famous Harry Potter movie series. He is simply superb in every way in his playing Jack in this story. The interview with these three leading characters runs about 30 minutes (DVD) and is important to see after you have watched the film.
I do not understand why a film like this could not have played in the cinemas and made significant money. It has the actors and it is a brilliant human tragedy done exceptionally well. But then I do not completely understand why certain wealthy people will finance some films and not others. It is the "chicken and the egg" scenario I suppose. I highly recommend My Boy Jack. It is well worth an evening of your time. I was genuinely moved by it to see that "war is hell." And war is sometimes engaged in by a zealous people with no real awareness of what they are getting into at all. Add to this the tragedy of how entire families are never the same and you get the real picture of the high cost of military conflict.