I just read this discussion on a site and thought those of you who are iinterested in Kipling might enjoy this movie.
IN discussions of Kipling, no word comes up more often than paradox: he was the prophet of both empire and its decline, a white supremacist and a connoisseur of exotic cultures, a fabulist and a master of realistic detail, a friend of the common man and a foe of democracy. But never had his conflicted nature caused him so much grief as when he used personal influence to wheedle a commission in the Irish Guards for his severely myopic son John, known as Jack. With tragic inevitability, Jack, who was just 18, was killed in his first military engagement, the Battle of Loos, in September 1915.
TV Review | 'My Boy Jack': A Different Kind of Kipling Adventure (April 18, 2008) The anguish that Kipling inflicted on himself and his family is the subject of “My Boy Jack,” a co-production of the British company Ecosse Films and the ITV network with WGBH, Boston, to be shown as part of the “Masterpiece” series on Sunday on most PBS stations. (Check local listings.) Adapted by David Haig from his play of the same name, the film stars Daniel Radcliffe as Jack; Kim Cattrall as Carrie, Rudyard Kipling’s American wife; and Mr. Haig himself as Kipling.
To add to the paradoxes, the film was shot primarily in Ireland with an Irish crew. Though many of Kipling’s most popular early characters (Private Mulvaney in “Soldiers Three,” Peachey Carnehan in “The Man Who Would Be King” and Kim in the novel of the same name) are Irish or half-Irish, Kipling grew virulently anti-Irish in response to the rise of the Irish independence movement in the early 1900s. He called Dublin a city of “dirt and slop,” and the Irish Home Rule Bill of 1912 an invitation to “Rebellion, rapine, hate,/ Oppression, wrong and greed,” as well as the domination of Ireland by the Roman Catholic Church. Under these circumstances Kipling must have found it mortifying to discover that Jack’s only military option was an Irish battalion.
Mr. Radcliffe noted that a scene in which Kipling addresses a “roomful of Republic of Ireland children, about 50 of them, all waving Union Jacks” carried a “massive political irony.” The film’s director, Brian Kirk, a native of Northern Ireland, observed that the scene originally ended with the “entire audience singing ‘God Save the King.’ ” This idea was scrapped, he said, to avoid having the British anthem sung with a “Dublin lilt.”
The creators of “My Boy Jack” were aware of Kipling’s torturous relationship with the Irish but felt it had to be omitted from the story. For Mr. Haig, the family’s reaction to its loss was the strongest component of the drama. “The Irish nationalism was something I was prepared to sacrifice,” he said.
The film tells the story of Jack’s induction and military training; depicts the Kiplings’ squirearchal lifestyle at Bateman’s, their Jacobean manor house in Sussex; and explores the family tensions over Jack’s brave but foolhardy enlistment. It builds rapidly to an extended trench warfare sequence, portrays the soldiers’ terror in raw detail, then hurls them onto the battlefield, where Jack soon disappears and is reported missing.
Next comes the more somberly hued aftermath, when, as Rebecca Eaton, the film’s executive producer, put it, the Kiplings must face the “unspeakable” possibility that they have lost a child, one they “have purposely put in harm’s way.” To find their son the Kiplings exploit every avenue: the Red Cross, army hospitals, influential friends.
In the latter part of the film Ms. Cattrall, who earlier relied on, in her words, “silence and subtlety” to convey the strength and will beneath Carrie’s placid Edwardian demeanor, shifts to a higher dramatic gear. Without a hint of Samantha Jones, she takes charge of the process, refusing to sleep as she pores over 4,000 photos of captured English soldiers. Later she murmurs, “I’ll find you, Jack.”
The revelation of Jack’s fate comes with an added psychological dimension. Pvt. Michael Bowe (Martin McCann), the sole survivor of Jack’s Irish platoon, arrives at Bateman’s and gives a shattering account of Jack’s last hours, speaking in a pronounced brogue. The whole family achieves a measure of catharsis, and even the self-assured bard finally disintegrates into sobbing.
These sequences may be consistent with the filmmakers’ overall design, but the real-life Kipling never broke down. And, it can be argued, he used his art to avoid the truth rather than face it, versifying that his son “was killed while laughing at some jest” and that at least “he did not shame his kind.” No one really knows how Jack died.
Asked if he thought Kipling would have liked “My Boy Jack,” Mr. Haig replied, “On one level he would have resented any deepish investigation into his family.” But he said he liked to think Kipling would have found a “generosity of spirit and sensitivity” in the film.
Kipling might have been quite pleased by what is, after all, a meta-Kipling yarn. Like Harvey, the adolescent hero of “Captains Courageous,” Jack transcends a cosseted boyhood to become part of a manly, rigorous corps, inspiring his somewhat hapless Irish recruits, besting them in push-ups and, despite weak eyesight, in marksmanship as well. Later he leads them valiantly “over the top” and dies almost as heroically as Akela, the venerable wolf chieftain in the first “Jungle Book.”
As for the Irish, they figured in Kipling’s major act of authorial contrition. His two-volume history “The Irish Guards in the Great War,” published in 1923, was a commemoration of the English officer class represented by his son but also a rediscovery of the loyal Irish Tommies of old. (He quotes one as saying, in a drenching rain, “We was just dhrippin’ Micks.”) In this role Kipling almost managed to love them again.