Kidnapped (1971)

screenshot from Kidnapped

Directed by: Delbert Mann
Screenwriter(s): Jack Pulman & James Seymour
Starring: Michael Caine, Lawrence Douglas, Donald Pleasance, Trevor Howard, Jack Hawkins, Vivien Heilbron
Genre: Historical / Drama
Country: UK
Running time: 1h 40m
Rating: 4 out of 10

Robert Louis Stevenson wrote Kidnapped in 1886 and its sequel, Catriona, in 1891. By the time of his death in 1894 (aged only 44), both were big sellers. Late Victorian readers were thrilled by Stevenson’s tales of 18th century Scotland, even though most of his lead characters were somewhat treasonable, being Jacobites. Jacobites were those who felt that the English and Scottish thrones had been stolen from the rightful heirs, the Scottish Stewart royal family. For the best part of a century – from the deposition of King James VII and II in 1688 to the 1760s – the supporters of the Stewart line fought openly and secretly against the British goverment.

The figurehead of the latter Jacobite activity was the Scottish heir, Bonnie Prince Charlie (he of the biscuit tins and other tourist tat), and his supporters led a rebellion in 1745 which saw Charles in control of much of Scotland. Over the winter of 1745-6, though, the British Army regrouped and fought back until Charles was finally defeated at Culloden, just outside Inverness, in April 1746. The Jacobites were decemated and the British army, under the Duke of Cumberland, and with the help of Clan Campbell, began a campaign of hunting down all remaining supporters and hanging, drawing and quartering them as a warning to others who might think of rebellion.

This short foray into Scottish history is by way of background to our film, which is set in the dying days of Jacobite resistance. It follows a young lad, David Balfour (Douglas, who was hand-picked from a local casting call by the director), as he attempts to make his way in a Scotland torn apart by internal division and virtually under martial law. And here’s the initial problem: Lawrence Douglas is not the best actor you’ll ever encounter. It’s not so much that he’s bad, but the role demands a strong presence which he somewhat lacks.

In quick succession, we romp through the events of Kidnapped (by far the more interesting of the two books which have been spliced together for this film): on the death of his father, Davie visits his uncle, Ebeneezer (a wonderfully rat-like Pleasence), gets sold into slavery and is saved by his cousin, Alan Breck Stewart (Caine), a renowned Jacobite. Following a skirmish with the British army, in which Breck kills a Campbell, the two go on the run. This section of the film is jam-packed with swordfights (Caine proving himself particularly adept in the fighting scenes) and skirmishes between the British forces and the Balfour/Breck family.

Now, that’s a very brief synopsis of Kidnapped, the book. Unfortunately, Kidnapped the film has a good hour left to go. That hour is pretty much about Davie’s fight to save various family members who have been threatened with the noose. There are lots of talky scenes with Davie’s lawyer (Jackson) and the Lord Advocate of Scotland (Howard) and some political stuff that I was too bored to follow.

The problem, it turns out, was money. Director Mann was spending too much on location in Oban, and the films backers balked at the rising production costs. Faced with budget constraints – and helped personally by Caine and other cast members forgoing wages and helping to pay the crew – he was forced to cut back on his plans. Hence, the whole hour-long foray into Scottish 18th century politics, which clould be shot in one of 2 or 3 interior sets.

On the bright side, Caine makes a sprightly Alan Breck, with just the right mix of dashing adventurer and political realist, and there’s quality support from the veteran Jack Hawkins as the corrupt sea captain who tries to spirit Davie away to the Carolinas as a slave. Also, Mann was clearly justified in using the Argyll coast as his location, because it looks absolutely stunning on film.

But, as with Ashanti, you can see the joins in this picture between the original ambition and what could eventually be afforded. The first half of the movie is thrilling enough and well worth a decent rating, but the poor second half and the fatal mis-casting of the lead role brings it down overall.


Musical director, Roy Budd, also wrote the seminal score for Get Carter. The title song, For All My Days, was sung by Mary Hopkin, who is most famous for the classic similarly-titled, Those Were the Days.