Jack Holborn DVD review

A classic TV adaptation from yesteryear? Or one that should be left on the shelf? Holger checks out Jack Holborn...

Jack Holborn hits DVD

The 1970s and 80s were easily the Golden Age of German Television. Like clockwork each year for Christmas lavishly produced 4-part mini-series regularly introduced a whole generation of teenagers to the wonders of traditional adventure fare. Adaptations of Jules Verne’s Michael Strogoff (1976) or Jack London’s Sea Wolf (1971) more than anything lived on in the memories of all those who feverishly watched those series on TV.

From the late 1970s on additional Christmas mini series aimed at a slightly younger audience ensured that the whole family was hooked in front of the telly for an entire month. With the coming of private television money was harder to get for those kinds of productions and it was only a question of time before these ceased altogether and were soon replaced with reality TV and its ilk. The memory of those exciting times, however, still lingers on and many a middle aged adult will now welcome the opportunity to re-acquaint themselves with those shows on DVD and introduce their own children to them. Of course, one of the niggling questions will always be: Have these series really stood the test of time or were they better left hidden in the rose-tinted nostalgic recesses of the mind?

Jack Holborn is an adaptation of Leon Garfield’s first children’s novel, published in 1964. Filmed in New Zealand, this is an international co-production that was shot in English by the German cast and then redubbed by English voice talent and generally shown in six episodes of 45 minutes, though there have also been transmissions that were cut to 12 episodes of 25 minutes.

The plot successfully mixes elements of Oliver Twist with Treasure Island and then adds a dash of Robinson Crusoe.

Ad – content continues below

Jack Holborn, an orphan, when released from the orphanage into the hands of a foster family, escapes to a privateer’s ship that is commandeered by Captain Sharingham whose twin brother, Judge Sharingham (both played by Matthias Habich), vengefully chases him across the oceans to interfere with the captain’s pirating sideline. During their journey they face mutinies and sea battles, ship wrecks and convenient character mix ups between the two brothers as well as being stranded on a deserted island and finding lost treasure. Throughout the adventure Jack is haunted by flashbacks from his past that seem to indicate that one of the twin brothers may have been involved in the killing of his father and may know the whereabouts of his mother.

Jack is played by Patrick Bach who had previously appeared in Silas (also directed by Sigi Rothemund), the very popular Christmas series from 1981. Jack Holborn was a successful follow up that cemented his reputation as a German TV teen star. He played in a number of other successful mini series of the 1980s, is still active and has even appeared in the Lord of the Rings saga. Well, his voice had, anyway, as he was the German dub for Sean Astin’s Sam Gamgee.

Prior to becoming a very popular TV director, Sigi Rothemund was better known for directing a whole number of German sex comedies usually displaying the, ahem, beauties of the Bavarian alps (Love Bavarian Style, 1971) or the foils and feebles of Fräuleins on Feckation (Wild and Beautiful on Ibiza, 1980).

Overall the production values for Jack Holborn were okay and Rothemund makes great use of the foreign scenery and magnificent vistas, however, it can’t be said that the series really stood the test of time completely.

First of all the dubbing comes straight out of the Monty Python school of funny accents with lots of dodgy cockney and “laddie” this and “laddie” that. The pedestrian pace of the series becomes far too obvious in some of the fight scenes that are staged slowly and are badly choreographed, and some of the battle scenes of ships on sea are more than obviously miniatures in a bath tub.

The rousing symphonic music by Christian Bruhns is clearly one of the highlights of the series and appears partially inspired by similar tracks from the Indiana Jones or Star Wars themes.

Ad – content continues below

For the International audience the most prominent face is probably that of popular TV actor Monte Markham, playing the mysterious Mr Trumpet who is captured at sea and suspected of being a mutineer. Unfortunately this generally convincing performer turns utterly pathetic when he needs to display the gold lust of a seaman discovering the treasure he has been seeking for so long. When confronted with a large diamond he starts going gaga by shouting “the White Lady, she’s mine, she’s mine” while prancing around like a demented aging ballerina on speed. A slow descent into madness, this ain’t.

Still, Jack Holborn is an innocent throwback to times without video or DVD where families gathered together each week feverishly anticipating the next instalment of a popular mini series while counting the days until Santa Claus would climb down their chimneys. It is easy to see how this series could have captured the imagination of teenage boys with dreams of adventure who would look past their ice crusted windows and fantasise about swashbuckling and treasure hunting derring-do in exotic locales.

3 out of 5


3 out of 5