Thanks to the kind offices of princessivye
I have now got my hot little hands on the ancient ITV serialisation of Kidnapped, starring David McCallum as Alan Breck, a dubbed German as David Balfour and a dubbed Frenchwoman as Catriona Drummond (why yes, it was a co-production with French and German TV, how can you tell?) I am pleased to report that David McCallum is much better than I remembered. I imagine my youthful dissatisfaction with his peformance must have had more to do with the liberties the production takes with the text than with his acting as such, because he really does manage to be much fierier than I remembered. Or perhaps I've just mellowed in my old age, because although the series does mess about with the story rather a lot, I now think some of those changes aren't half bad. For one thing, they make a real attempt to fill in some of the historical background, so although I couldn't repress a cringe at the sight of twenty English actors in skirts recreating Culloden, while Bonnie Prince Charlie - played by Christopher Biggins!!! - stupidly told Alan Breck not to attack until OMG IT WAS TOO LATE!! I did appreciate that they were trying to set up the political backstory. I was on board with David running into Catriona before he even gets to Shaws, rather than having her pop up suddenly in the second half, and I also thought it was a good idea to open with Alan arriving back in Scotland from France, because it's definitely a flaw in the book that he arrives so late in the story. As A Literary Critic once observed "From the appearance of Alan Breck in chapter nine, a breathless interest prevails", but the preceding eight chapters are sadly a bit short on said breathless interest, so if the TV series inserts lots of shots of Alan jumping onto redcoats from high walls and leaping onto horses to gallop off through the mist, who am I to complain? However, having given the writers credit for a couple of justifiable changes, they then lost all the Brownie points they'd gained by deciding to have Alan land in Scotland a couple of miles from David's home village of Essendean. I mean, excuse me?? And also WTF?! Why all this business with the Torran reef later on if they could just have sailed down to the Lowlands and let the French pick him up there? Having been put in a bad mood by this inexcusable bit of geography-fudging, I also couldn't help noticing that a great deal of thoroughly undesirable whitewashing goes on (and also blackwashing). James of the Glens has not been shooting his mouth off about wanting to see Colin Campbell dead, on the contrary he's a wise and humanitarian leader who orders Alan to make sure the Red Fox is KEPT SAFE while he's in Appin. Which Alan duly does, albeit not terribly effectively, since otherwise we would have No Story. And James also pays the tenants' rents to Ardshiel out of his own pocket, because taking their money is oppression, and he tells Alan that the Highland cause is lost and rebellion is pointless. But the evil redcoats hang him anyway, or will, when we get on to DVD 2 tomorrow. Colin Campbell, by contrast, is not a brave man reluctantly doing his duty, but has stepped straight out of a Stewart propaganda pamphlet - we can tell he's Eeeevil because he has rude, and enjoys burning innocent farmers out of house and home, and he has the kind of long red hair that looks great on Catriona but awful on a portly middle-aged man. In fact, all of Stevenson's careful sullying of the moral waters is de-greyed, and all the characters' contradictions are removed. Hoseasons is scum, and that's that. We're given no opportunity to observe how brave he is in the face of death by drowning compared to Alan, because Alan isn't afraid (and nor does the ship founder because Alan was stupid enough to believe he could navigate a stretch of water he didn't know well - it's because an English ship gives chase). Riach isn't a bastard when sober and nice when drunk. Mungo Campbell isn't devoted to Glenure and terrified for his life, he's a Eeeevil lawyer who looks like death and has got it in for all Stewarts. David Balfour is a thoroughly nice chap, and not arrogant, or priggish, or condescending (though I could forgive a lot of this as he's played by someone who looks about sixteen, which felt exactly right). Cluny Macpherson is also a lot nicer than he seems in the book, and though the card game was extremely well done, the writers seemed to miss the point about what the subsequent quarrel between David and Cluny was actually about. The only bit of moral complexity that is preserved is the fact that the tenant farmers didn't actually want to come close to starving in order to send money off to France - RLS glosses over this a bit (although Alan does say "It's wonderful to me how little pressure is needed", thereby admitting that there IS pressure being applied), but here we have it rubbed in our faces - we hardly need the dispossessed farmers to wave their homeless children at Alan when Bonnie Prince Charlie is CHRISTOPHER BIGGINS. But we get them anyway.
Worst of all, though, is the curtailing of the flight in the heather, so that we jump straight from Cluny's cage to the Bridge of Stirling, thus CUTTING ROBIN OIG! This is a terrible crime against narrative, and I can only forgive them for it by presuming they thought it would be hard to make an actual bagpipe contest sound anywhere near as beautiful as RLS makes it.
Still, on balance it's not too awful a version, and at least it wasn't shot in New Zealand, unlike some productions I could mention (although, actually, I could see why one might be tempted - ITV clearly had terrible luck with the weather in Scotland, as all Hoseasons' fog scenes whad to be filmed in broad sunshine, whilst David and Alan birstled away on the rock in what was evidently a really grey and chilly day).