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It's another hard day on the job for Mike McNeil, who sways unsteadily as he fits a mast high in the air above a shipyard in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The shipyard owner, Mr. Lord, takes notice and upbraids the luckless lad, blaming booze for his troubles. Sure enough, when the whistle blows to end his shift, Mike heads straight to the pub, downs two double shots of whiskey -- and orders two more.
These are not happy times for Mike and the same goes for his wife, Elizabeth, and children, Michael and Jacqueline, in the family melodrama "Jacqueline." Mike's life is bearable thanks to the apple of his eye. He dotes lavish love and attention on Jacqueline and she returns it in spades. She stands up to the neighborhood kids who gather around Mike to jeer and taunt him when he staggers home after from the pub. At school, she's spurned by classmates when she spins improbably tall tales, not the least of which is that her Daddy never touches a drop. From the perspective of half a century later, we would say she's over-compensating to boost her self-esteem.
In the end, she proves she can stick to Daddy's side through thick and thin and clears the way for his redemption. She even takes a pledge of her own -- to stop stretching the truth. Mike's obstacles are the bane of many a family man at least every Irish family man: he's tempted to drink at risk of job and family. Audiences will have little doubt all these pitfalls await poor Mike before he and daughter manage to work things out.
In "Jacqueline," Roy Don Baker, the noted British director, works with a marvelous cast but somehow can't wring much of an emotional punch from the script by the credited group of writers. Scenes that unfold around celebrations marking the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II neatly time-stamp this as a slice of everyday working-class life in Belfast in 1953; instructive, but as an effort to capture the universal human condition, this movie falls sadly short.
Robert Osborne's brief commentary after a recent airing on TCM indicated that even Baker wasn't very happy with this picture because he had to step in for another director late in the game, and apparently there was a problem getting the largely Catholic cast to portray Protestant characters. For whatever reason, the crises that develop in "Jacqueline" are too thinly sketched.
We learn that Mike (John Gregson) is unhappy in the city because he's a good cattleman but jobs on the farm are scarce. Alas, who wouldn't be driven to drink because he'd rather muck stalls and deliver calves than punch a clock and struggle with dangerous ship-rigging? Aside from that powerful thirst, Mike's chief antagonist is his mother-in-law, Mrs. McMullen (Josephine Fitzgerald), who not only encourages her daughter to leave her husband, but also tries to set her up with the well-off bachelor who used to be sweet on the girl. In Ireland, all's fair in love, war and motherly meddling.
But the great problem here is that the characters don't seem to be under much great tension. Alas, great tension requires comic relief and there's little of that too.
One of the main subplots is son Michael's ambition to get into prep school, and Mike's actions make him seem almost callously indifferent toward the boy. At the same time, we see that the family is three weeks behind the rent and a good chunk of the budget goes to support Mr. McNeil's weakness, but there's still enough in the sugar bowl to provide Jacqueline with a closet full of pretty, fashionable frocks.
The title character is Jacqueline Ryan, the daughter in real life of actress Kathleen Ryan, who plays the Mom, Elizabeth. Kathleen is a very attractive woman and here she infuses effervescence into her role that doesn't quite match the tone audiences might expect. As for Jacqueline-the-actress in her only film credit on this website, she was certainly a cute 9- or 10-year-old in her blonde Buster Brown-style cut, but she doesn't bring much poise to Jacqueline-the-character. In a pivotal scene in which she has to sweet-talk the stern Mr. Lord (the era's ubiquitous Liam Redmond) into giving Daddy a break, little Jackie literally keeps dropping her drawers to bring in the subtext that she's using her feminine wiles to bend the old man to her will. Angela Cartwright would have done the job with a wink, a wiggle and a coo.
Still, the movie is worth watching on many levels. Film students can imagine how the script and production could have been beefed up to endow this with a stronger spine and make it vastly more rewarding. And then there's the cultural setting: This reviewer's wife is an Irish girl (folks from Clare and Tipperary) and he thinks anybody who enjoys watching cute Irish girls and their family dynamics will get a lot out of "Jacqueline."
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