Appellate Judge James A. Stewart once considered organizing an illegal voyage to the Arctic to put up a plaque for Captain William Scoresby, but his toy boat was declared confined to bathtub.
"Where has he gone, and will he come back?
Captain Jack is based on a true story, although the on-screen note at the end lets us know the details have been changed. There was a real Captain Jack Lammaman, who slipped away from Whitby Harbor with his "unfit" boat and placed a plaque on Jan Mayen Island in the Arctic to honor whaling Captain William Scoresby, according to Yachting Monthly. His name's changed to Jack Armistead here, and the ship's name gets a makeover, but the frame of the story is intact.
Captain Cook, who discovered Australia and New Zealand, is honored in Whitby, a seafaring English town, but Captain Jack (Bob Hoskins, Who Framed Roger Rabbit) would like to see Scoresby honored in some way. He tells some schoolkids on a tour about Scoresby's exploits, and warns them about the puffing-up of Cook's legend. "Do you know why God gave you two ears? When you hear a pack of lies in the one, you can empty them out through the other," he says.
As he gradually formulates his plan to put a plaque on that island 1,300 miles away, we meet his soon-to-be traveling companions:
Andy (Peter McDonald, The Headsman), a handsome young hitchhiker escaping a bad romance (or perhaps several), is willing to swab the deck in exchange for food and a bed. His cardboard sign reads, "Anywhere," although he doesn't quite know how far it'll take him yet.
Emmett (David Troughton, Sharpe's Rifles, the son of Doctor Who star Patrick Troughton), a frustrated husband, is suffering through a holiday in a small caravan with his grouchy wife and disrespectful brood; he wants to book a day trip, but jumps at Jack's better idea.
Gentle, elderly Phoebe (Anna Massey, Agatha Christie: A Life in Pictures), a dockside painter, has been watching Jack from the docks for a while. She's ready to get away from her friend Eunice (Gemma Jones, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason). Trouble is, Eunice comes along for the ride as well.
One more, although Jack wasn't expecting her—Tessa (Sadie Frost, The Krays), a vegetarian who works in her father's fish-and-chips shop, has been fond of Andy since he turned up in Whitby, but wasn't even able to speak to him on shore. Once the ship's at sea, Tessa turns up in a storage seat.
Unfortunately, before Jack sets sail in the Yorkshire Beauty, he's got to pass an inspection by the officious, bureaucratic Mr. Lancing (Patrick Malahide, The World is Not Enough, British TV's Chief Inspector Alleyn). He torpedoes Jack's plans, or so he thinks, by declaring the ship confined to harbor. Not so. Over the objections of friend Barbara (Maureen Lippman, Coronation Street, Smiley's People), Jack and his crew head out anyway, under cover of a fishing fleet. Lancing's steamed, threatening Jack by radio with torpedoes and a global manhunt.
Although I've written a lot so far, and will write more after this one word, Captain Jack can be summed up in one word: amiable. There are laughs from some sharp lines ("I might not be very beautiful, but I might be very passionate for all you know. For all I know, for that matter," Tessa tells Andy) and situations, such as Emmett's reaction to a lucky shot with a harpoon, but the movie trades in likeability and doles out genuine laugh-out-loud moments sparingly, with a purposefully slow pace. The strongest purely comic performance comes from Malahide, as the inspector who can't find the Yorkshire Beauty—even though everyone in Whitby knows where the ship's headed—because no one's going to tell him. Hoskins is believable and likeable as Jack, even in caricature moments, and his performance sets the tone for the rest of the seafaring cast. The actors playing the crew each get moments to shine, although the landlubbers are portrayed essentially as stick figures. Although there are some moments of suspense, the action never leaves the upbeat outcome in doubt.
The transfer is full frame pan-and-scan. This takes away some of the scenery, since there are great shots of Whitby and islands in the British Isles (in some cases standing in for the Arctic). The colors of the bright red ship (later repainted black) against the sea hold up well, however. The Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo audio track is seaworthy as well.
The lone extra feature is text biographies, helpful if you're not familiar with these actors.
Aside from the loss of scenery, the pan-and-scan treatment left me thinking that the movie wasn't a high priority for Koch Vision. True enough, but if you're even curious about it at this point, you should like it and find it worth at least a rental.
Not guilty, despite what the bureaucratic Mr. Lansing has to say.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Koch Vision
• Cast Biographies (text)
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