Playback Region 2
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THE TITLE character in this entertaining British adventure film is the glue that holds the story together – despite his being hanged in the opening sequence.
No, this isn’t a ghost story; it’s a mid-18th century classic based on the book by Leon Garfield and translated to film by Ken Loach (“The Wind that Shakes the Barley,” 2006). It won the Cannes Film Critics award and is the inspiration for Wes Anderson’s AFI Best Movie of the Year winner, “Moonrise Kingdom.”
Set in Yorkshire, we open on hanging day – a public entertainment of the time. Instead of showing Black Jack and his fellow “sinners,” which include a woman holding her baby, dying by the noose – the camera focuses on the clergyman praying for those about to depart. Then the credits roll. That’s how Loach and cinematographer Chris Menges (“The Killing Fields”) display the more gruesome realities of the time, including grave robbing and murder. Black Jack (Jean Franval), a huge Frenchman and a sailor, earns his handle because the English can’t pronounce his given name. He pops back to life inside his coffin set up in a local tavern, having partially swallowed a small spoon to keep the rope from breaking his neck.
That he knows such tricks gives us a hint of his not-so-sterling personality. He might have accidentally killed a man in a brawl, but he’s no innocent. That would be Tolly (Stephen Hirst), a young draper’s apprentice, who’s been drafted to guard the body while the tavern keeper rushes off to round up the dead man’s sailor friends for a last farewell – or so she says. (We get back to her again by the end of the tale.)
In his escape, Black Jack kidnaps Tolly, dragging him along to be his interpreter and assistant.Read more ›
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