A rediscovered classic from director Ken Loach (THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY, KES) and one of the inspirations for Wes Anderson’s MOONRISE KINGDOM, BLACK JACK is a dark and complex adventure film set in the 18th century and based on Leon Garfield’s novel for children. When French thief “Black Jack” kidnaps young Tolly, a journey begins that includes traveling fairs, murder and the rescue of a young girl from a private insane asylum. While shot primarily in 16mm and on a modest budget on location in Yorkshire, Chris Menges’ photography, the enchanting performances by its young cast and Loach’s gentle, observational style all shine through.


“Black Jack” is this weird English tale about children and the creepy individuals that enter their lives. There is an element of “Great Expectations” to the narrative, but there’s also something more. Loach is so laid back in his direction, that you almost wonder if he’s asleep. That being said, I can see the influence that this film had on later productions including “Moonrise Kingdom”. It doesn’t want to make their kids cutesy, it wants to treat them like people inhabiting a world that was never meant for them.

Kids put into precarious situations has always made for compelling viewing. But, there’s something about Black Jack and Tolly that holds your attention, as they venture through the rural 17th century England. They’re ruffians, coarse and poor. But, they share a kinship by understanding the circumstances that made them the people they are today. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that Black Jack helps Tolly meet a non crazy young lady.

The Blu-Ray comes with deleted scenes, trailers and commentary as the special features. The LCPM 2.0 master audio track is strong enough. However, I feel that a stronger restoration could’ve helped to make the 16mm film’s origins seem less dated. That being said, the environment it created was strong enough for my home theater enjoyment. In the end, I’d recommend a purchase.


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