My Boy Jack is a BBC production of a family caught up in the Great War. Based on real events, the movie stars Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter, A Young Doctor’s Notebook) as John “Jack” Kipling, son of author, poet, and outspoken hawk Rudyard Kipling (David Haig, Yes, Prime Minister).
When Jack tries to join Britain’s armed forces, he is denied because of his need for spectacles. Unfortunately, his father is out telling every able-bodied young lad that they must join up or be shunned by their countrymen. In the position to do so, Rudyard can pull strings to help Jack enlist, but should he? And how will Rudyard feel if Jack marches out and doesn’t make it home? Although My Boy Jack was made in 2007, it only recently made its U.S. debut, on cable network Ovation. It has now been released on DVD as well.
I can see why My Boy Jack might have had a hard time finding its audience. The first half of the series is a slow-moving, seemingly typical British drama. It then morphs into a war story, complete with death and explosions, before focusing on the family struggling emotionally back home. These pivots provide an uneven tone, even while maintaining the quality, so its sometimes hard knowing what to expect from moment to moment.
At a 94-minute running time, it hardly seems long enough for a biopic, but in this one, it’s plenty for the movie’s very narrow focus. Jack’s involvement in the war, and that is told from beginning to end, leaves no hanging threads.
The world referenced by My Boy Jack was a defining time for the British Empire, and it’s easy to see why a boy, who might not quite be physically fit by the war department’s standards, struggles against the odds to serve King and Country. England was at the height of its power at the time, and the British way of life seemed threatened. Combine that with the father-son relationship and Rudyard’s stance on defending the homeland, Jack will feel ashamed if he can’t participate, disappointing his father and his peers. He must enlist, and we feel his struggle.
The film’s family drama is very strongly portrayed. Rudyard is presented as a man confident in his beliefs, but not immune to being shaken by circumstance. His wife, Caroline (Kim Cattrall, Sex and the City), is supportive, but torn, proud, and not wanting her boy in danger. She knows Jack is heading to a place where many of the nation’s young men are dying every day. Jack’s sister, Elsie (Carey Mulligan, The Great Gatsby), is more straightforward with her disapproval, sharing a close bond with Jack, and scared about what might happen.
While the events portrayed in My Boy Jack happened a century ago and are easily spoiled with an online research, I’ll refrain from revealing if Jack makes it home. I will say that the story is moving and the performances are very good, even if the overall result isn’t anything particularly special.
The DVD release of My Boy Jack comes with several bonus features. We’re given six minutes of deleted scenes that are actually pretty insightful, unlike many other titles. There are twenty-four minutes of interviews with various cast members and almost a full hour discussing the war itself. This unexpected wealth of useful extras is most welcome, making the DVD feel like it’s for a theatrical film, rather than a TV movie.
My Boy Jack is available now.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00KHBCYD8][amazon template=iframe image&asin=B000RLGE0W]