BBC Kidnapped (2005)

How did Alex Balfour, Davie’s father die? Robert Louis Stevenson doesn’t say but fortunately Richard Kurti and Bev Doyle were able to step in and confirm that a tree fell upon him.  As he dies, Alex Balfour relates the denouement of Kidnapped, in an odd contemporary twist of storytelling. The writers have re-written Stevenson and I intend to find out why.  Let the grave spinning begin.

A blank television screen is useless, so why make a 90 minute version of Kidnapped when you can make a 150 minute version? How to fill the extra 60 minutes? You introduce new scenes, new characters such as a group of Bounty Hunters called The Long Mile Gang (hard drinkers in Queensferry); and then there's the incredibly inappropriate sex interest and thieving hussy ‘Maggie’.  Stevenson just wasn't up to it, so Kurti and Doyle are gonna right (and rewrite) his awful wrongs.

Add grumpy red-haired Highland sex interest ‘Catriona’; Cluny MacPherson in a bizarre hilltop showdown and death in the snow (complete fantasy); and Paul McGann as another invented character (Colonel MacNab) and complete with an amazing new end in which the apolitical David Balfour suddenly turns terrorist and ambushes a troupe of redcoats.

As with the 1960 Walt Disney version of Kidnapped, my favourite part, the Erraid sequence is abandoned, even in this 150 minute yawnathon. It’s understandable; the Erraid scene, of all scenes in the book is largely internal to David, and doesn’t involve any Scottish clichés, fighting or lassies. 

But why not at least tip your hat to Stevenson now and then by actually including something he wrote in his novel?  This is after all, the novel that you as BBC producer and writer are raping the hell out of, borrowing the title of, all in order to hang upon it your own pish idea of public entertainment.

Yes, the lack of Erraid is small complaint in the end, in a movie that at the end of the day, barely follows the Robert Louis Stevenson book at all. The thing about David Balfour (in the book, not in this) is that he is not afraid of who he is, and always fights his corner, something that the BBC Balfour does not.  BBC Balfour as created by Kurti and Doyle is ineffectual, rudderless, and lets the world act on him at all times.  In RLS’ Kidnapped, David a self-conscious Whig, has a Highland journey with Alan Breck that is politically dramatic; there is the tension of the chase, and the tension between the two heroes; and there’s national tension at the greatest level too, and it’s sad to miss it out.

So it is ignorance I am afraid, to think that the device of the Long Mile Gang constantly pursuing David and Alan is going to up the dramatic pull, because it doesn’t; it just makes the whole Highland road movie aspect of the story repetitive; there’s nothing worse than film drama trying to be urgent.

And a joke; What’s a Jacobite? Whatever he can get his teeth into. Fair enough. RLS didn’t put that many jokes in to kidnapped, so Kurti and Dyle rectify that too.  They might as well.  They are better writers than Stevenson after all.  They can fill in the holes in that imperfect text.

I return to this: the strangest thing of all regarding the BBC 2005 version of Kidnapped is that David Balfour’s father explains the whole plot at the start, so that Davie undertakes his adventure knowing his inheritance; but the catalogue of nonsense is long; Ransome the cabin boy is inexplicably older than David; Riach is sober and Ransome is deliberately cast over the side of the Covenant, only to be reprieved at the last moment by the collision with Alan Breck’s sailboat; Gregor Fisher appears but his performance is muted, unusual.

And finally there’s the central question of New Zealand. Oh pish! Although New Zealand at times looks more like Scotland than Scotland does it also looks like the Swiss Alps. Blame Lord of the Rings, but the biggest geographical cliché out there is the New Zealand money shot; characters running over the mountain tops of New Zealand, filmed from a helicopter circulating the summit. It’s embarrassing but this very camera shot seems to be director Brendan Maher ‘s raison d’etre for the this production.

I’m sure they all had a great time. Raping Stevenson. The bottom line is however is that you cannae have Kidnapped without heather… no way, Jose, Kurti, Doyle.