A shocked rustling of corsets and indignant round of harrumphs greeted last year’s announcement that PBS’ venerated Masterpiece Theatre was to be revamped in an attempt to attract a younger, broader audience. The whole enterprise had a stink of the Lohan about it: Were our 19th-century heroines going to be…fab? Would there be a shopping montage? Was Mr. Darcy going to burp the alphabet?
Relaunched in January, the series has a new moniker Masterpiece Classic and a new host, The X-Files’ Gillian Anderson, a Masterpiece vet herself from 2006’s stark Bleak House. Otherwise, the whole revamp seems to be a wonderful hoax, as Masterpiece is as smart and charming and redolent of lavender and wood polish as always. For fans of romance-between-classes (and I don’t mean English lit and trig), a lovely new version of E.M. Forster’s A Room With a View airs April 13 with a witty, tight screenplay from Andrew Davies (the 1996 BBC version of Pride and Prejudice). Davies has tacked on a shocking new afterthought of an ending — I’d call it unnecessary, but inventive.
My Boy Jack, debuting April 20, is even stodgier — and I mean that in the best way. It’s about Rudyard Kipling! Based on a stage play! And as Kipling, the play’s star and writer, David Haig, has not been replaced by Patrick Dempsey! True, some pop-cult faces show up: Sex and the City’s Kim Cattrall plays Kipling’s wife, and Harry Potter’s Daniel Radcliffe plays Jack, the earnest young son of the saber-rattling, war-hungry writer. One of these bits of casting works. Radcliffe is hauntingly good as the boy who enters the fray of WWI despite being completely unqualified: He’s blind without his spectacles. My Boy Jack is a father-son fable about the values a parent bestows — or inflicts — on his child. Haig, a British actor most recognizable as lusty groom Bernard in Four Weddings and a Funeral, plays Kipling with bluster and booming voice, a force of nature who will fling his only son into WWI out of duty, brio, and an unquestioning confidence in his boy’s abilities. Radcliffe, heartbreakingly scrawny and young, plays Jack as a boy tragically eager to prove himself a man. In one perfect scene, Jack walks with his father to a waiting car, and somewhere in those strides, he unconsciously assumes his dad’s gait and cadence. It’s a smooth, subtle piece of acting on Radcliffe’s part, and aside from the glasses and crooked grin, he never once evokes Harry Potter. Would that the same could be said for Cattrall, who can’t quite shed her fabulousness. Lying in bed alongside her husband in the fearful night, she often looks like she’s about to utter some Samantha-esque pun: His Kipling has gone kerplunk! Still, this is primarily Haig and Radcliffe’s show — and it’s a jolly good one. A Room With a View: B+; My Boy Jack: A-