I knew I was probably going to cry when watching My Boy Jack last night. War movies tend to have that effect on me. I’d read enough about the story and the Kiplings online to realize that this film wasn’t going to end happily. However, I didn’t expect to respond to the film on the deep, personal, gut-wrenching level I did last night. I didn't expect to weep, tears dripping down my cheeks. I didn't think that somewhere along the line, Jack Kipling would become my friend Christopher, who died a little over four years ago, just shy of 23 (Edit: Make that over six years now...wow, that blows my mind just thinking about the passage of time! Miss you, Chris.). I've been prompted to mull this film over off and on today - I can't "shake it" because it was much more personal and thought-provoking, deserving much better than the label of entertainment. My Boy Jack was much, much more than a war story, or a biographical film – it drove home the unspeakable tragedy of lives gone too soon, cut short by the likes of war, illness, or accident, in a fresh, deeply personal, way.
My Boy Jack is a perfect example of Masterpiece Theatre programming at its finest. The script, direction, and acting are all superb. The film is based on the play MBJ written by David Haigh, who portrayed Rudyard Kipling on stage as well as in the film. I believe the fact that Haigh wrote the source material and adapted his own play for the script helped his passion for the subject matter translate to the screen. He also bears a striking resemblance to Rudyard Kipling himself:
The film definitely renewed my interest in Kipling's writing. I read The Jungle Book back in college as part of my Victorian Children's Lit class cirriculum and loved it. The man was a gifted storyteller and MBJ does a wonderful job of bringing out Kipling's childlike enthusiasm for storytelling and adventure. The juxtaposition of Kipling's enthusiasm for his stories and life make the tension in his family and the pain felt over Jack's loss almost unbearably poignant.
Kim Cattrall as Carrie Kipling was an absolute revelation. I'll admit going into the production that I thought she would be the show's "weakest link." However, I found her performance absolutely riveting and as the show progressed, completely and utterly convincing. Her strength, determination, and grief over Jack's loss is heartbreaking to witness.
Carey Mulligan played Jack's sister Elsie. I think this is her most impressive performance to date (she's previously appeared in Bleak House and Northanger Abbey, to name a few). She doesn't have all that much screen time, but when she's present she leaves an impression. I've said it before but it bears repeating - hers is a career to watch. (Edit: I had no idea how right I'd be about Mulligan's career when I typed that statement in 2008. If you've never seen An Education, check that movie out at the first opportunity. You can read my review here.)
And last but definitely not least, Daniel Radcliffe gives a fantastic turn as Jack Kipling. My Boy Jack is Radcliffe's first television role since his film debut as the young David Copperfield in the 1999 Masterpiece Theatre production. Now that's he's forever linked to his role as Harry Potter, seeing him playing any other character takes a bit of getting used to. However, MBJ proves to be a great vehicle for Radcliffe, and the project and his costars gave him ample opportunity to develop his acting chops. (Edit: Radcliffe has just gotten better and better acting-wise, hasn't he? I thought he did a fantastic job in part one of Deathly Hallows, and once his Potter career closes I look forward to seeing what other projects he pursues - I hope he doesn't rule out further Masterpiece appearances!) He also bears an eerily striking resemblance to John Kipling:
One of the many reasons this film is so extraordinary and thought-provoking is that it doesn't take sides when it comes to the issue of war. Particuarly in these times, and in the hands of the wrong writer or filmmakers, My Boy Jack could have been turned into some sort of propaganda piece. Thankfully, this film doesn't go there - instead, it's a film about family, patriotism, loss, and the horrible, wrenching cost of conflict.
Like Jack Kipling, my friend Chris was an extraordinarily gifted young man whose life still feels like it was cut short far too soon. As I watched My Boy Jack, I found myself grieving anew for Chris and for those who are snatched by death at far too young an age, setting the world upside-down as parents are forced to mourn their children, and uncalculable potential is lost. Rudyard Kipling, filled with self-recrimination after Jack's death, wrote "If any question why we died, tell them, because our fathers lied." There are no easy answers, but I was reminded in a fresh and powerful way that while life is hard, my God is sovereign...and I am thankful I have Him to trust in.
"My Boy Jack"
By Rudyard Kipling
"Have you news of my boy Jack?"
Not this tide.
"When d'you think that he'll come back?"
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.
"Has any one else had word of him?"
Not this tide.
For what is sunk will hardly swim,
Not with this wind blowing and this tide.
"Oh, dear, what comfort can I find?"
None this tide,
Nor any tide,
Except he didn't shame his kind
Not even with that wind blowing and that tide.
Then hold your head up all the more,
And every tide,
Because he was the son you bore,
And gave to that wind blowing and that tide!