A High Wind in Jamiaca opens with a married couple and their children battening down the hatches at their home in the Carribean in preparation for a particularly nasty hurricane, the high wind of the title. Following the storm, and a little bit of misbehaviour on the children’s part, the mother decides that they must be sent to England to be educated. Her reasoning being that “It’s this place! It turned them into savages!” The idea of savages contrasting with the more civilised folk is a theme that is oft returned to throughout the film and it is very sensitively treated by both the script and the excellent performances, which never fall into the over the top hamminess that they so easily could have.
Very shortly after the children are sent off to England on a ship, the parents stay behind in the Carribean, they are kidnapped by a group of pirates who decide to take the children with them rather than risk leaving them on the ship. In these early scenes there is a wonderful piece of foreshadowing that occurs with the death of a monkey, which sets up the fact that there are real stakes in the story and also cleverly prefigures a later scene. This is not just a carefree kids film with no real consequences.
Captaining the pirates is Chavez (Anthony Quinn) and fighting alongside him is Zac (James Coburn) and luckily this film can be chalked up on the good sides of the uneven careers of these two fine actors. Aided by well written characters Coburn and Quinn bring complexity to their roles and the pirates are not just simplistic villains spouting clichéd ‘pieces of eight’ catchphrases.
The film lacks any complex or exciting action, the battle sequences are rather sedate affairs when compared to most swashbucklers, but it is well paced and only falls down a little in the second act where it begins to drag a touch. Events quickly escalate though and the film reaches an interesting and rather dark climax.
A High Wind in Jamaica is a children’s film in many ways but it is certainly not childish. Filled with excellent performances, a nuanced script and directed with both a wide scope and appropriate intimacy, A High Wind in Jamaica is a charming but occasionally dark film that could provide many a lesson for the makers of modern pirate fare.
The DVD from Eureka is very light on extras, two trailers are the only supplemental features, but the transfer is excellent and showcases Douglas Slocombe’s rich cinematography particularly well.
A High Wind in Jamaica is available to buy or rent on DVD from the 25th of July.