My Boy Jack
What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that characters swear explicitly during combat (not outside of it, though), and there is brief but bloody battlefield violence and fatalities. The younger Kiplings are shown sneaking cigarettes and alcohol unsupervised. Early readers who have come to idolize actor Daniel Radcliffe for his incarnation of Harry Potter should know this is a likeable but very different character he plays, who comes to a very different, sadder end. Viewers whose knowledge of English history and culture doesn't go much deeper than Hogwarts may feel left out.
What's the story?
Opening in 1914, MY BOY JACK concerns the son of celebrated writer Rudyard Kipling (David Haig). In Imperial Britain the elder Kipling is more than just a successful creator of widely read adventure stories and poems like Gunga Din, The Jungle Book, and Kim; he upholds the spirit of the British Empire and publicly advocates war against a competing Germany. Kipling's teenage son John (Daniel Radcliffe), meanwhile, struggles to measure up to his father's lofty codes of manhood and patriotism. John wants to enlist in the Royal Navy, but Rudyard uses his considerable influence in the government to ensure the youth becomes a British Army officer instead. John's mother and especially his sister are less enthusiastic about his going off to fight when the war begins, and Britain initially suffers disastrous defeats. A well-liked leader of a platoon of Irish Guards, John is reported missing in action after a huge battle, bringing much grief and introspection to the prominent Kipling household.
Is it any good?
Much like Christopher Columbus, Rudyard Kipling represents, for some people, an idol of the finest quality, and for others (especially those on the political left), he summed up the worst; a conquest-happy nationalist who never served a day in uniform himself, but who used his literary talents to propagandize for British armed strength and superiority worldwide. This story, based on fact (and a poem Kipling wrote in tribute to his son) could well have portrayed the author as a foaming fanatic who sent his boy to suffer in the trenches for his own personal glory. But -- and as My Boy Jack was first aired on British television for a national holiday honoring war veterans -- the filmmakers recognize that nobody at the time had that attitude. Thus, we have a fair-and-balanced script that doesn't judge harshly by making Kipling too extreme or his wife too reproachful.
In this treatment though, something notable got overlooked: John himself. He seems like a nice, capable, unpretentious young adult, not at all stuck up as a child of privilege. He's self-conscious about his weak eyesight and well accustomed to his dear domineering dad -- and that's about it. Well-acted and handsomely produced, My Boy Jack just doesn't have much to say about the title character or the challenges of growing up Kipling. Viewers not especially spellbound with the time period may hunger for more drama and insight.
Families can talk about...
Families can talk about Rudyard Kipling, and how his literary output and political prominence propped up the British Empire. You can compare his books to movies based on them, especially The Jungle Book. How tough (or cool) might it be as the son of a national icon?