My Boy Jack



9-11 p.m. Sunday, April 20
WNET New York

Taking his first crack at playing an adult, Daniel Radcliffe scores a minor triumph as Rudyard Kipling's 18-year-old son who marched off to the front soon after the outbreak of World War I and quickly disappeared in the mud and waste of the killing fields. Dressed touchingly in clothes that look too big for him and peering timorously through wire-rimmed spectacles, the celebrated star of the "Harry Potter" films projects Jack Kipling's sensitive, introspective nature with quietly affecting poetry and pathos.

Rudyard Kipling is played by David Haig, who will be familiar to American audiences from his many appearances in British film and television, and who also wrote the spare but eloquent script, based on his play. Haig's performance is tightly controlled, but the profound humanity he occasionally expresses is completely convincing.

In a remarkable outing, Kim Cattrall plays the elder Kipling's American wife with deeply moving dimensions of emotional power. Lying sleepless in bed with him in the grief-laden aftermath of their son's death, her unspoken request to her husband to tell her "a story" is extraordinary. As Jack's sister, Carey Mulligan also is outstanding, her eyes pools of inarticulate sadness, her beauty inescapably reminding the family of their loss.

The slow-paced but beautifully photographed story might have more cumulative than immediate emotional impact on American audiences, for whom the Great War and Kipling are likely to be distant memories, but the anti-war sentiment sure to be triggered by brutal sequences in the trenches and the cries of "Over the top!" will strike home dramatically.

Kipling's fame is evident in the trappings of his country estate as well as the connections with King George V and the highest reaches of government. But while his stature as one of the great writers of the English language is communicated only twice -- once when he reads the opening of one of his children's stories, once when he recites the poem he wrote for his lost son, "My Boy Jack" -- the effect in both cases is stunning.

WNET New York
Ecosse Films and WGBH Boston
Producers: Robert Bernstein, Nicole Finnan, Rebecca Eaton
Director: Brian Kirk
Teleplay: David Haig
Rudyard Kipling: David Haig
John Kipling: Daniel Radcliffe
Caroline Kipling: Kim Cattrall
Elsie Kipling: Carey Mulligan
King George V: Julian Wadham
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