My Boy Jack.
Rudyard Kipling and his son stand at the crossroads where modern family dynamics intersect with 19th-century traditions, and poetic martial hyperbole intersects with the gut-wrenching reality of war.
Kipling is the first author I can remember knowing by name, at about the age of 5 or 6. That was when my mother began reading aloud to me The Jungle Book (in the original – this was many years before the advent of the infantile Disney pastiche). Kipling’s writing so completely captured my imagination, I decided then that I wanted to write books when I grew up.
“Growing up” also might have been a personal motive of the juvenile lead, whom I discovered happens to have been the child star of the Harry Potter movies (I’ve neither read the books nor seen the films). The actor’s portrayal of Kipling’s son was his first “grown-up” role, and the visual emphasis given to his cigarette smoking feels as if it was meant to stress his maturity.
Some artistic license also was taken with the depiction of Jack Kipling’s demise. Great War historians likely would know how he was said to have died, but that scenario was softened for the screen, perhaps to give the actor’s fans a less traumatic way to bid a final farewell to Harry Potter.
Mothers may find it difficult to accept that Mrs. Kipling would ever reconcile with her husband, but that she could is psychologically sound, because of how bereaved people progress through the four tasks of mourning (see J. William Worden’s Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy; any edition will do; sample here). Nearsighted people may feel conflicted about the denial of Jack’s vision issues, but the convenience of modern contact lenses has removed much of the disability, and most of the stigma associated with poor vision, which also made “short-sighted” a pejorative term. Pragmatic viewers (especially veterans) may wonder what would have been wrong with his enlisting in an administrative or other support role, instead of insisting on getting a combat billet, but the concept of what constitutes “honorable” service has evolved over the past hundred years.
As a costume drama, the film flips the right switches: historic setting; famous characters, including royalty; English and Irish accents; the proper cap badge and pattern of uniform buttons; rainy, grey, muddy Western Front trenches. Even the actor who plays Rudyard Kipling bears an uncanny resemblance to the man.
This edition of the DVD includes the documentary lecture Pity of War, presented by Niall Ferguson, which examines the First World War from the futility perspective. In this respect, the moral of the movie could be expressed by the sayings, “pride goeth before a fall,” and “be careful what you pray for, because you just might get it.” But this cinematic retelling of macro- and micro-tragedy is worth the time to view, and should benefit the historical novelist.