All the recent excitement at Scots Whay Hae! concerning Robert Louis Stevenson made me think about film adaptations of his work. I’m going to look at the big screen version of The Master of Ballantrae later in the year, and possible a roundup of the best, and worst, of the myriad adaptations of Jekyll and Hyde, but I want I to now look at Kidnapped.
There are a few versions to choose from, including a Disney version from 1960 starring Peter Finch and a rather charming animated version from 1986, but perhaps the most interesting, if not necessarily the best, is the 1971 version, which was directed by Delbert Mann (a Best Director Oscar winner for Marty) and which has a terrific British star-studded cast, more of which later.
Actually, the film is an amalgamation of two Stevenson novels, Kidnapped and the sequel, Catriona. I presume this is to introduce some romance into the film which Kidnapped, which is essentially an early ‘buddy’ novel, would not allow on its own. The appearance of Vivien Hailbron’s Catriona Stewart gives the film the romance which you can imagine the film company demanded.
The cast is impressive. Trevor Howard is the Lord Advocate, giving a great performance as a man who believes that justice comes second to pragmatism, as he sees it, as he seeks to keep the peace between Campbell and Stewart, as much as he can. Donald Pleasance is reliably weak and greedy as Davie’s Uncle Ebeneezer, and Jack Hawkins is a wonderfully sleazy Captain Hoseason, who would betray himself if he thought it would bring him some financial gain.
Gordon Jackson once again plays middle-class Edinburgh beautifully as Charles, the urban arm of the Stewart clan. Like the Lord Advocate, he is a man trying to make a living in the modern world, but who still feels strong ties to his family, meaning he has a never ending stream of cousins and nephews coming through his door as they attempt to escape the clutches of the Redcoats.
But the most startling piece of casting must be Michael Caine as Alan Breck (left), the swashbuckling hero to David Balfour’s callow youth. Caine at least attempts a Scottish accent, or at least he doesn’t do ‘Michael Caine’, and his performance is a reminder that in the ’60s and ’70s he was quite the character actor (think Zulu or The Man Who Would Be King).
But it is not his performance, which is as charismatic as you would expect from one of the great screen presences, but the character which amuses. Dressed head to toe in a tartan trouser suit, knee length leather boots, fabulous blonde locks, and with plenty of swords at his disposal, he is a Jacobite dandy and a fashion icon for a young Spandau Ballet. For someone on the run, he stands out like a Vivienne Westwood model on Cambuslang Main Street on a Saturday Night. It’s rather marvellous, and everyone else pales in comparison.
It’s interesting to watch Kidnapped today as it does touch on current political concerns, but it also asks some interesting philosophical questions, particularly with reference to John Stuart Mill’s theory of Utilitarianism; which asks if one man’s suffering is morally justified if the majority are free and unharmed as a direct result. In this case the man is Catriona’s father, who is to be executed for a crime he did not commit so that peace is maintained. It isn’t justified, by the way, but the fact my thoughts turned this way is probably a commentary on the film’s ability to hold my attention. At least it made me think.
Here are the opening scenes, sound tracked by the legendary Roy Budd:
It’s not a great film, but if you have a weekend in, when it’s cold outside, you could do worse than stick Kidnapped on and marvel at Alan Breck’s magnificent trousers.