My Boy Jack (2007)

 

 

 

 

Director:      Brian Kirk. 

Starring:       David Haig (Rudyard Kipling),  Daniel Radcliffe (John Kipling),  Kim Cattrall (Caroline Kipling),  Carey Mulligan (Elsie Kipling),  Julian Wadham (King George V),  Martin McCann (Bowe),  Richard Dormer (Corporal John O'Leary),  Raidhr Conroy (McHugh),  Laurence Kinlan (Doyle),  Ciaran Nolan (Daly),  Nick Dunning (Colonel Ferguson),  Michael McElhatton (Leo Amery MP),  Peter Gowen (H.A Gwynne),  Brian de Salvo (Field Marshal 'Bobs' Roberts),  Simon Coury (Naval Doctor).

Author Rudyard Kipling pushes to get his son into the army; son is reported missing, probably wounded; Mrs. Kipling moves heaven and earth to learn the truth about what happened

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film.

England 1914.  Author Rudyard Kipling drives his fancy car really fast down a narrow road.   

His son Jack Kipling is trying to get into the navy.  He goes through his medical examination.  One of the doctors knows his father. 

Kipling is coming in as fast as he can.  His Majesty is expecting him. 

Jack takes the eye test.  Without his spectacles he can't read any of the letters on the chart. 

King George V tells Kipling the the trip took 2 hours, 57 minutes.  Congratulations.  Marvelous run.  They toast to the shattering of the three-hour barrier on the Bateman's-Windsor run.  King George V asks about Rudyard's family and he says right now his son is in the middle of his medical examination for the Navy.  The King says that the Prime Minister has asked him to speak to Kipling and tell him to hold off on some of his harsher remarks about Germany and the weakness of the British government.  Kipling wants to know why.  Because the Prime Minister still thinks there's a chance of avoiding war.  This is not possible, according to Kipling, because one million German soldiers are right now sitting on the Belgium border.  Kipling is really worried about his country.  Britain, he says, is not prepared for war.  There are too few soldiers and their weapons are fifty years old.  The King is actually glad to hear Kipling sticking to his criticisms of British un-preparedness.   

A reporter and a photographer speak to Mrs. Kipling about talking with her husband.  She tells them this is private property and she wants them to leave immediately.  She stands firms and they give in and leave. 

Finished speaking with the King, Kipling stops to talk to a young lad he knows.  He gives him a copy of the second Jungle Book.  Kipling returns home and asks how it went for Jack.  The Navy turned him down because he couldn't read the chart without his glasses.  Kipling goes to see Jack who is working on a motorcycle with the young boy Peter. He tells Peter his mother wants him to get ready to leave.  Kipling then suggests to Jack that he can get him a private examination with the Army Medical Board. 

Kipling publicly speaks about the coming war with Germany.  Right in the middle of the section about English women being raped by Germans, he receives a telegram.  He announces to the audience that ten minutes ago Great Britain declared war on Germany.  He bemoans the fact that their 160,000 man army must now face a German army of one and a half million.  He urges every fit young man to join the military forces.

Kipling tries to get Jack to make a better overall impression by changing his hair style and the type of glasses he wears.  His wife Carrie gets a bit upset at her husband.  She asks him if he really thinks it's fair to encourage the poor boy when the Navy gave him a whole five minutes to try and read the eye chart before him?  Kipling says it would be very unfair if he didn't encourage his son.  Carrie leaves the room without uttering another word. 

At the army eye-test, Jack says he can't read anything.  He has to move forward to see anything.  This is very serious myopia, says the doctor to Mr. Kipling.  If he lost his spectacles he would be a danger to himself and his men.  Kipling is so angry.  He tells the men that this is a gutless decision -- that he will write to others to get him into the armed forces.  At home Carrie says she's sorry to her husband, but he says she is not.  She is delighted he didn't make it. 

Jack's sister doesn't want Jack to go.  She asks Jack to promise to not leave her alone.  Dad comes in at this point to discuss other avenues into the armed services.  Jack is ready to join the ranks, but dad tells him to let him have a chance to explore the other avenues.  If nothing comes of it, then he can join the ranks. 

Carrie talks to her husband.  She says Rudyard has pushed their boy enough.  Carrie wants him to use his influence to get Jack a valuable job on the home front.    Kipling goes to the Propaganda Committee of the War Office.  A military man enters.  He says he has the casualty figures for the first day of the Battle for Aubers Ridge:  458 officers and 11,161 men.  It's a staggering figure to those around the table.  Worse news  -- the British did not even take Aubers Ridge.  They speak of fudging the figures, but Kipling wants the true figures published.  He figures young men will want to come out and avenge the British dead.

Kipling goes to see a very old Field Marshal Roberts.  They talk about the war.  Then Kipling tells Roberts that he has come to ask a favor. 

Jack and his friend Ralph meet in a pub to have a drink.  Ralph will be joining his regiment next week and, hopefully, they will see action not long afterward.  Carrie and daughter Elsie are both furious with father.  Elsie says:  "You march up to one of your powerful pals whose on the point of conking out."  She asks:  "Why is he suddenly fit to fight?"   Elsie says it's too dangerous for Jack.  Without his specs he cant see past five yards.  She finishes with:  "Well, frankly, Father, it will be your fault if Jack is killed."  Now Dad is angry.  He then responds as if he were giving another patriotic speech.  Elsie leaves the room.  Carrie is disgusted with Rud, but she congratulates Jack. 

2nd Battalion, Irish Brigade.  Jack arrives on his motorcycle.  He has a huge grin on his face as he looks around the area.  Back home Carrie and Elsie join other women to work in the fields to grow crops for the soldiers.  Kipling learns that 80% percent of British shells were defective or duds.  Their weapons are so bad that the shells did not reach the German lines.  Rather they reached the area of the British wounded in no man's land.  The few British survivors of the battle came back with German prisoners and their own men fired on them thinking they were the enemy.  They killed all but a handful of men.  Jack proves to be a terrible shot, not even hitting the target.  Mom and daughter return from the fields with their hands all ripped up.  They cover their hands in a thick salve.  Jack does extra rifle practice to improve his shooting.  He feels more confident because he has adjusted his glasses so they won't fall off his face when he is trying to shoot.  Now Jack can hit the target and even comes close to getting a bull's eye a couple of times. 

Jack writes a letter to his family.  He is now Second Lieutenant John Kipling.  He will have 20 Irish recruits to turn into soldiers. 

Kipling is placed in command of 5 Platoon.  They are all volunteers.  John takes rifle practice with his men and scores a 93 out of 100.  John returns home to find his father telling a story to a bunch of children sitting on the living room floor.  He now sports a mustache.   The Battalion sails next week for France.  Dad is proud, sister upset and mother terribly upset.  Dad tells his son that he wishes he could be in his shoes now.  Jack tells Dad that the Great Advance kicks off on August 17, the day of Jack's 18th birthday. 

Jack has to leave.  He tells his mother not to worry.  Corporal O'Leary will watch out for him.  He says goodbye to mom and sister.  And lastly he says goodbye to his father.  At the last minute he tells his father that sixteen officers from Warley Barracks have died already and his good friend Ralph was killed on his first day.  Dad says he will be alright. 

Loos, Northern France.  Jack and his men walk through the flooded trenches in the rain.  Back home the family gets his letter.  He asks for a black oilskin coat to protect him from the rain.  He says the Germans are getting into their stride, but they will be ready for them.  This upsets Mom and Daughter.   They hear something that sounds like artillery explosions.  The women think it's thunder, but Dad says no, it's the sound of artillery coming from France. 

In the trenches, Jack puts some powder on one of his men's cut foot.  At home the family celebrates Jack's birthday and have a champagne toast to him.  In the trenches, Jack's men sing the birthday song to him.  Jack gets his orders.  They are going over tomorrow morning at 7:30.  Jack writes a letter home saying they will be in it tomorrow morning.  At home mother gets up and goes outside to sit with her husband.  At breakfast the family sits together in silence. 

In France Jack gives the order to fix bayonets.  One man is so scared, he can't seem to do anything right.  Jacks helps him put on his bayonet.  At 7:30 precisely Jack blows the whistle and the men go over the top.  Some of his men are killed by artillery shell explosions. 

A telegram delivery boy comes to the Kipling residence.   In a very somber tone he tells Mr. Kipling he has a telegram.  Dad goes into his den and reads it.  The telegram says that their son John Kipling is missing and presumed injured while on war service.  Dad says:  "No, no, no."  His wife comes in and almost immediately knows what he has in his hands.  Dad says that he is not dead, just believed wounded.  He tries to be upbeat and positive, but Mrs. Kipling only says:  "We should have stopped him."  Elsie comes in and almost immediately knows something bad has happened.  She thinks he's been killed.  No, missing, believed wounded.  Elsie says then he'll come home.  She starts crying and then asks Dad:  "Why did you let him go?"  She says Jack didn't give a damn about the "cause" Dad is so concerned about.  He went to get away from "this dark, depressing house."  Elsie asks her father if that is reason enough to fight? 

Mother and daughter sit quietly clutching each other's hand.  Kipling reports to the Propaganda Committee.  He acts as if everything is alright and wants them to continue their discussion of the Battle of Loos.  385 officers and 7,861 men were killed or wounded in the first attack.  An additional 600 Irish and Scots Guards are declared missing, believe wounded.  2,000 yards of ground was taken, so Loos was a victory.

Mrs. Kipling is determined to find her son, dead or alive.  She writes the military hospitals in France and gives a list of names to Rud that she wants him to contact.  He used his influence to get their son into battle, now he can used his influence to find out where their son is.  She requests photos of all 4,000 British prisoners held captive by the Germans.  Her husband and she are up nights thinking and worrying. 

The photos of the British P.O.W.s arrive.  She does not find a photo of her son.  She insists on going through the photos once again, even though Rud is exhausted and wants to sleep.  Carrie says she will go through them by herself, but Rud answers that he will stay to help.  Peter has cleaned up Jack's motorcycle so that it is shining bright.  Mr. Kipling is very proud of him for his tremendous effort and he invites Peter to have a cup of tea with him.  Peter asks for a story instead of a coup of tea.  Mr. Kipling begins his war tale of Captain Jack Kipling and Lt. Peter Carter of the Bengal Lancers.  In the middle of his story he starts to cry and Peter asks him if Jack is dead?  Not certain, says Mr. Kipling.  More importantly, Mr. Kipling now says that he is not even sure Jack should have gone in the first place. 

Mrs. Kipling has Captain Bruce over for tea so he can tell her about the Battle of Loos.  She knows so much about the battle that she seems to be an expert.  She even has a detailed map on the table before them.  Dad is so bloody tired, but Mrs. Kipling is still going strong.  She accuses him of having given up hope.  He denies that. 

The Kiplings get to interview their first man, Bowe,  actually from their son's platoon.  He is the soldier with the bad foot that Jack powdered and rubbed.   Bowe remembers being blasted back into a trench and nearly landing right on top of a dead British soldier.  Jack Kipling comes up with his pistol in his hand and helps Bowe up.   He gets the last of his men together, divides them into two halves and they charge a machine gun blockhouse.  Bowe's friend Jimmy is hit and killed leaving just Jack and Bowe.  Jack is hit in the right upper thigh and goes to his knees.  He gets up and is hit again, this time in the left shoulder.  He goes down on all fours this time and loses his glasses.  He feels around for them but can't find them.  An artillery shell lands in the area.  Bowe admits that he was so scared that he didn't help their son.  Jacks finds his glasses and puts them back on.  He appears dazed and confused.  He stands up and is immediately hit with two shots in the chest on the left side.  Down he goes with a thud.  The women have tears flowing down their faces. 

Bowe is escorted out by Elsie.  Mr. Kipling is very proud of his son saying he was very brave.  But Mrs. Kipling only thinks of the awful pain her son must have been in.  Her husband says that soldiers tell him that the pain only comes later.  Jack was lucky because it was all over quickly, but his wife says:  "Don't tell me he was lucky."   She says there was no glory in the way their son died, but Rud says he believes there is.  Carrie says she won't listen to this any more and starts to leave.  Rud stops her by grabbing her arm.  She tells him to let go of her.  He asks her if she wants him to admit that he murdered his own son?  If so, he admits it.  He says there isn't a minute that goes by that he doesn't think about their son and his role in Jack's death. How could he have sent his own son to oblivion?  Carrie cries and says:  "But I miss him."  The tough Mr. Kipling now weeps for his son, holding his head and saying:  "So do I.".    A little later he says they will manage and his wife says she doesn't doubt that.  She goes to comfort her daughter, who is crying over the loss of her brother.  Mom goes into her son's room to smell his clothes and lay on his bed. 

Rudyard Kipling wakes his wife and help her to their bed.  Carrie says whatever they did, Jack would have found a way to get to France.  He was where he wanted to be.  Rudyard says he let his son down.  Husband and wife look at each other.  Rudyard asks his wife if she wants him to tell her a story.  She says:  "Yes, please."   

Mr. Kipling goes to see King George V.  Both men have lost sons.  Kipling listens as the King tells him how his son died at the age of 13.  Kipling recites a poem he wrote in honor of his son Jack, who died at the age of 18 years and 1 day.

 

Good movie.  I found it to be very touching and moving.  David Haig as Rudyard Kipling and Kim Cattrall as as Caroline Kipling were both excellent.  Daniel Radcliffe (as John Kipling) was great casting because he looked small and frail.  You might think being so frail, Jack Kipling would not want to go to war, but he desperately wanted to go.  Rudyard Kipling reminded me somewhat of Theodore Roosevelt.  He had that bully, bully outlook on life as a great adventure.  Rudyard romanticized war and even tells his son that he wishes he could be in his shoes going off to war.  He persisted in this attitude if against the strong opposition of his wife and daughter.  The telegram telling them that Jack is missing, believed wounded brings the actual reality of war to Rudyard.  And he is to face the resentment from his wife and daughter.  Rudyard even comes to doubt whether or not Jack should have even gone to war.  And that's saying something because Dad had to pull all kinds of strings to get his son into the army.  Now Rudyard has to examine his own role in this because he thinks about what happened all the time now. 

The only thing I was wondering about was how a woman so upset about her husband's pulling strings to get their son into war, could go be so forgiving so soon after the tragic news of what happened to her son.  I would think it would take awhile before the wife could forgive her husband in a case such as this.  

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 

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