The battle of Culloden is fresh in the minds of the Scottish people as the English forces combined with the local Campbells put down the Jacobite rebellion instigated by Bonnie Prince Charlie, who believed himself to be the rightful heir to the throne and not King George. However, his campaign was none too well managed, and has led to the deaths of many, a state of affairs that is still continuing in fits and starts as the rebels refuse to give up their cause. Young David Balfour (Lawrence Douglas) has been making his way to Edinburgh now his parents have died so he may join his uncle, Ebenezer (Donald Pleasence), who he is to stay with, but after picking his way through a countryside fraught with Redcoats and their enemies, he does not get the welcome he would have liked...
There have been umpteen versions of Robert Louis Stevenson's novel Kidnapped, a popular choice for film and television alike thanks to its involving tale of historical adventure which deftly mixed real life incident with his fiction. If done right, it can be presented with a romantic sweep that can carry the audience along, but this 1971 adaptation was lost in the cinematic landscapes of its era, not helped by a troubled production that saw the money run out when it came to actually paying the cast. There had been high hopes for it, a mixture of swashbuckling action and ruminations on lost political causes that would appeal to both the heart and the head, yet in effect potential viewers just were not that interested.
However, television has been the saviour of many a movie, and so it was that this incarnation of David Balfour's trials and tribulations became a regular fixture on the small screen, though rarely in a print that showed off director Delbert Mann's understanding of the power of the Scottish countryside with his widescreen compositions. Nevertheless, it picked up its fans, some of whom still nursed issues with the casting or the changes from the book (two books, in fact, as Stevenson's sequel Catriona was partly brought in to flesh out the plot). Michael Caine was the biggest star here, commencing a decade that saw him appear in productions of widely varying effectiveness, but managing to be dashing and delivering lines in a creditable Scottish accent.
Mind you, asking him to pronounce the word "loch" revealed him as the Sassenach he was, but it was important to the story, for Caine's Alan Breck, a proud Stuart as well as a proud Scot, has a deep love for his country and wishes to see Prince Charlie on the throne at any cost. That was the crux, as in spite of the turmoil he and his fellow supporters have created for the nation, he cannot see this as anything but his patriotic duty, and the implication was that they had been the cause of many unnecessary deaths and miseries when the political climate was changing in ways they could not comprehend, being so stuck in historical grounding that they were blind to the evolution happening either with them or without them. The Redcoats were not let off the hook by any means, they killed a lot of people too, yet the blame was on rebels like Alan.
What did Alan have to do with David? They meet on a sailing ship after Ebenezer sees to it that when his attempt to murder his nephew fails, the young man is clonked over the head and dispatched to join the crew much against his wishes. Breck is met by the Captain (Jack Hawkins) with a view to a business deal, but if he treats David this way then Alan doesn't have much hope, so they team up and the ship is wrecked on the rocks, allowing the two of them to escape, agreeing that they can be beneficial to each other. Along the way back to Edinburgh they stop off at Alan's relations' house, where James (Jack Watson) accuses him of allowing his patriotism to cloud his mind, there is an argument and the next day James is both shot and framed for the murder of one of the Campbells, leading Alan, David and James' daughter Catriona (Vivien Heilbron, like Douglas a performer who failed to capitalise on their "introducing" credit though television beckoned) to flee. For a film that was superficially about action and adventure, Kidnapped wanted to make its audience think as well, and if it was an uneasy mix at times it did make interesting points and looked splendid. Music by Roy Budd, with Mary Hopkin singing the charming end theme.
[Network's DVD as part of The British Film line has a restored print that much improves on previous TV broadcasts, and carries the extras over from their previous DVD release: a trailer, a vintage featurette, three interviews with Caine and a gallery. All in all a great package.]