Robert Louis Stevenson wrote over a dozen novels in his lifetime plus multiple short stories, poems, essays, and other works. He was wildly popular in his day and remains so today. He is the 26th most translated author in the world and his most popular works - Treasure Island, Kidnapped and the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde have been adapted into hundreds of plays, television series, and movies. By my count, Kidnapped has been adapted at least nine times into films.
This makes sense as Stevenson wrote adventure stories full of action, romance, pirates, and treasure, all of which make for exciting visuals. His books have been practically mandatory reading for young boys across the planet for decades. I myself have never read any of his stories. One of the adaptations was made in 1971 by Delbert Mann, which stars Michael Caine, Trevor Howard, Jack Hawkins, and Donald Pleasence. It uses plot points from both Kidnapped and its sequel, Catriona. I myself have never seen any of the Kidnapped adaptations, including this one until just recently. Therefore, I cannot tell you whether it is a faithful adaptation to the books or how it fares against the other adaptations. I can say that it's a pretty decent little adventure film.
It begins in 1745 with the Battle of Culloden in which the Hanovarian Government smashed the Jacobite uprising in a battle that lasted less than an hour and killed around 2,000 men. The Jacobites were trying to restore the Stuart family to the throne of England, which they had lost nearly a hundred years prior. The Stuarts lost the throne in the Glorious Revolution of 1688 to Queen Mary II and King William III. That’s history I didn’t know prior to my viewing and in fact I had to spend some time on Wikipedia to grasp what I could of its importance, but it plays a part of the story being told in this film.
Our story proper begins with David Balfour (Lawrence Douglas), who was raised by a kindly minister after his parents died. When David comes of age, he is given a letter from his father that introduces him to his Uncle Ebenezer (Pleasence), who lives in the the family’s run-down manor, The House of Shaws. Ebenezer none too happy that David is back (and has rightful claim to the house) at first tries to kill him (by having him climb the rotten stairs in the dark and go to a room that is now but a hole in the ground) and then sells him to a sea captain who will sail the boy to the Carolinas where he will be sold as an indentured servant.
Before long, the ship runs into Alan Breck’s (Caine) boat and takes him on board. The crew aim to kill Breck for his money but he is warned of this by David and the two narrowly escape. They then set out for Edinburgh, dodging Redcoats along the way and staying the night with Breck’s cousin, James Stewart (Jack Watson) and his lovely daughter Catriona (Vivien Helibron). Breck and Stewart argue over the revolution with Breck desperate to get back to France to raise money to fight and James having made peace with King George. The next morning, Redcoats come a-crawling and when their leader is killed, the soldiers massacre most of the family and arrest James for the murder. Breck, David, and Catriona all head for Edinburgh where David and Catriona hope to testify in favor of James and Breck aims to find safe passage to France.
For an adventure story, there is an awful lot of obscure politics (obscure at least to this 21st-Century American). They say the production ran out of money pretty quickly, which is why much of the adventure of the first book go missing and the more political aspects of the sequel get center stage as the film runs on. They do a moderately good job of supplying enough action to keep the audience from total boredom, but there are long scenes of people talking. Much discussion is had about who should sit on the throne and who has what rights, but really, who gives a shit? I really did have to do some Googling just to figure out what was happening in the story because it constantly references historical events that were never mentioned in my high-school history classes. But were I not writing this review I would not have bothered.
Naturally, there is a romance between David and Catriona. David proves how brave and loyal he is by testifying he was with James when the soldier was murdered even though the government has already decided James is going to hang, and even though it might mean David will join him. Lawrence Douglas is acceptable as David and Vivien Helibron looks quite fetching which is all she’s really called to do. The action scenes are exciting and Michael Caine is always enjoyable, but when it gets bogged down in politics (which is most of its back half), it is a bit of a slog. The film was shot on location in Scotland and there are lots of beautiful views of the mountains, the lochs, and the lovely heather.
For fans of Michael Caine (or of Donald Pleasence, who really chews into the little part he’s given), Kidnapped is worth the watching. If you are looking for a rip-roaring adventure, then you will likely be disappointed as there is far more talking than there is fighting.
Kino Lorber Studio Classics presents Kidnapped with a 2.35:1 aspect ration and a 1080p transfer. The only extra is a trailer.