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Based on the adventures of Jack Sheppard, the thief and jail-breaker who became a folk hero in 1720s London. Jack is working as an apprentice to a clockmaker when his brother Tom is sentenced to be hanged for theft. To save Tom (who has a wife and children) he goes for help to the brutal 'Thief-taker General' Jonathan Wild. Wild mediates between the government and the criminal underworld, fencing stolen goods and delivering thieves who don't pay him tribute over to the authorities. He assigns Jack a robbery in return for saving Tom from the gallows, but when Jack learns that Tom is instead to be 'transported' to the colonies for a life of hard labour he refuses to cut Wild in on the proceeds. An angry Wild has Jack thrown in Newgate prison, from which he escapes, forming his own criminal outfit with another of Wild's disgruntled associates, Joseph 'Blueskin' Blake. Determined to crush this affront to his authority, Wild uses Jack's mistress Bess to trap him and has him jailed again. ... Written by
Peter Brynmor Roberts
Reasonably accurate depiction of the era, mediocre script
Felt like a made-for-TV movie, it wasn't bad but wasn't really very good either. Loosely based on a true story and a genuine character, I really appreciated the attention to detail, especially in the way they captured the dirt, grit, cruelty and unfairness of the times. I especially appreciated how they captured the huge economic and social gap between the classes and the use of children in all sorts of demeaning, dangerous and menial jobs--most period pieces ignore the poor treatment of children. While the storyline didn't accurately follow the time line and documented events of our "hero", the characters, their behavior and the scenery as well as costuming seemed reasonably authentic. Some of the plot devices were very loosely based on the true story, but I believe that a more accurate rendition of the Jack's real exploits would actually have been FAR more interesting.
It's strange when a filmmaker takes liberties with an historical event (as most do for the sake of clarity and storytelling) and makes it not only less entertaining but less credible than the real thing....This was a missed opportunity and I'd love to see some modern studio take a crack at it. They should have played up the "cult of celebrity" of the times, a phenomenon that allowed sometimes truly cruel and debauched human beings to become famous and revered through the power of propaganda--in the sense that newspapers, tabloids and gossip played up the sensationalist nature of their activities and sometimes, through the use of outright lies, made terrible people into heroes and legends. This is something we still see today (you can add the internet into this modern day machine of celebrity) and an aspect that would have resonated with audiences. While it would seem that this particular real-life celebrity, Jack Sheppard, captured the public's imaginations by thumbing his nose at the establishment and the hypocritical purveyors of "law and order" and was not a violent or cruel "villain", make no mistake--he was no Robin Hood either. There are several ways they could have told this story--it would have made a great comedy, or a meaningful historical drama--or even a musical! and while his tale is "satisfactory" in this film, I mean it when I say I would really love to see a modern studio shoot it as it really is a great story and an interesting historical character. .
My main grievances are with the sometimes flat and sometimes strange delivery of the lines, and the mediocre script. The main character who played our hero did very well in his role and did his best to redeem the film. The main female lead's delivery was very uneven and she seemed like a tacked on character--"oh, he's GOT to have a love interest" type of thing, and she served more as a distraction (literally) and a lame plot device than as an integral part of the story, despite her generous screen time. A few of the supporting roles were reasonably well done and added to the film. I just really, really wish the female lead had been better developed (not THAT way, she was quite amply endowed, thank you!) and not only added more to the plot but was more interesting and better acted. As it was she was mainly eye candy--and even given the production year of 1969 they could have done better.
PARENTS REVIEW; Mostly family appropriate unless you disapprove of historically accurate indifference and cruelties. Sadly, it really does play like TV movie, so take it as it is--though that is likely why it is as family-friendly as it plays. Given the context it could have been far more bawdy and violent. The accents are very easy to understand, no thick cockney to wade through. No nudity, no swearing--hinted at sex, but nothing you'd have to hide from the kiddos (our hero unlaces the back of the girlfriend's bodice, oh and sometimes you fear our lady lead is going to jump out of her corset, but that's as racy as it gets). There is some suggested violence (faky fights, bloodless shootings and the like), hints of abuse and lots of drinking (even kids--true enough for the times). This particular film could work as a great jumping off point for a history and civics lesson: especially the disparity between the classes of the times, the lack of child labor protection laws, lack of social protections, corruption of the law, etc.
CONCLUSION: Recommended with aforementioned reservations. I heartily approved of the film for being careful in it's depiction of the era. That was exceptionally well done even if the movie overall was just average. I enjoyed the ending--even if it stretched one's credibility--and sometimes it doesn't hurt to play "what if", especially in this type of film, based on real people. Yeah, it COULD have happened that way--and it is kind of nice to think that perhaps it did.
'Nough said. :)
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