Handsomely filmed by d.p. Clive Tickner, this mid-18th-century costumer about an orphan forced into taking punishment for a spoiled young prince will grab youthful viewers with its verve and colorful characters. Shades of Twain and Anthony Hope, Max Brindle’s “The Whipping Boy” serves as a mildly satisfying eye-filler.
Orphan Jemmy (English newcomer Truan Munro), living in the streets and sewers of fictional Brattenburg with 8-year-old sister Annyrose (beguiling Karen Salt), catches and sells rats to Blind George (George C. Scott), who buys them for unthinkable reasons.
Arrogant but lonely Prince Horace (Nic Knight), neglected by his papa, the king (Andrew Bicknell), has been pulling naughty pranks such as ruining an oil painting and arranging for live rats to be dished up at a banquet. It’s a way of getting back — or getting the attention of the king.
Street urchin Jemmy is kidnapped by the king’s men to act as Prince Horace’s stand-in for punishment whenever he misbehaves. Jemmy seizes a chance to escape the palace to rescue Annyrose, who’s been railroaded into jail; the neglected Horace secretly and happily joins Jemmy in the escapade.
The boys’ flight and their encounters in the woods are major diversions, even if the people they meet verge on the obvious. Two highwaymen (Kevin Conway, Vincent Schiavelli, both laying it on thick) are determinedly strange, and a Gypsy woman (Mathilda May), who wanders the forest with her pet bear, is an OK attempt at colorfulness.
Attention-getting scenes, such as that bear ambling toward the baddies, or the two boys fishing barehanded in a stream, should delight all viewers, and the pomp and majesty of court life as dreamed up by production designers John Blezard and Norbert Scherer have been impressively realized.
Director Syd Macartney — who’s helmed, among other things, episodes of “The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles”– displays an amusingly sly style, and if Jemmy’s poverty and dirt look phony, Macartney zips past them at a gallop.
Munro’s a resourceful young actor, and Knight fares well enough as the forlorn prince. Scott’s malevolent, testy Blind George gives the vidpic zest.
Bicknell’s king is royally proper, and Jean Anderson in the limited part of the queen mother gives the role a becomingly regal touch.
The telefilm has charm as well as minor failings, and location filming in Germany and France were worth the trip. Lee Holdridge has supplied an often sonorous score, and tech credits are solid.