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Film: Taking Ealing to the Arctic.

In his latest film Bob Hoskins plays an eccentric Whitby pleasure boat skipper who sails to the Arctic with an unlikely crew and in defiance of official efforts to stop him, writes Terry Grimley.

It sounds a whimsical tale, a throwback to the classic Ealing comedy theme of stubborn English individualism triumphing over petty officialdom. The astonishing thing is that it is based on a true story.

The hero of Captain Jack , which is screened tonight at the Birmingham International Film & Television Festival, is based on Captain Jack Lammiman. Like the character played by Bob Hoskins, he is a Whitby character and a great admirer of his Whitby foreb ear, the Arctic explorer Captain Wiliam Scoresby. It is also true that in 1991 he sailed to the Arctic with the intention of installing a memorial plaque to Scoresby, in defiance of the British and Norwegian navies.

In other respects producer John Goldschmidt and writer Jack Rosenthal have give their imaginations free reign, populating the voyage with a variety of improbable characters.

Yet the original adventure was bizarre enough, with Lammiman disguising his boat the Helga Maria as a Dutch vessel, the Argos of Rotterdam, and friends in Greenland, the Shetlands and the Faroes laying false trails to deflect the helicopters.

The expedition reached the Arctic but not its objective, Scoresby Sound, because of ice. The plaque was left on the rocks outside and Lammiman hopes to complete his mission next year.

One story about the real Captain Jack which turns out be a bit of romantic embroidery is that he never goes anywhere without his boat. This seemed to rule out an appearance at tomorrow night's screening since the boat, though small, is a little wide for Birmingham's canals. But in fact he was thinking yesterday of interrupting his journey to Italy to dash back to Birmingham by car and ferry, when I caught up with him on his mobile as he was just steering into the Calais canal.

"We're southbound down to Elba, across France," he explained. "I've crossed many oceans, but I haven't crossed a Continent before. We have a small restaurant in Elba that's being opened, and we'll be back up to Whitby in September."

He hopes to have another go at getting into Scoresby Sound, despite the full retribution of the law, which sentenced him to 14 days in jail after he returned home last time.

"The governor was called Mr Bolt," he recalls with a laugh. "We had a lot of interesting conversations about politics and crime and after three days he let me out, so I only served four days, not 14. They were awash with criminals, so they didn't need me ."

Captain Jack's producer John Goldschmidt tells an amusing story about how Lammiman and his colleagues held court in a Whitby pub, with rival film companies being wheeled in at hourly intervals to pitch for the rights to his story. Goldschmidt's bid wasn' t the biggest, but was chosen as the one most likely to do the story justice. "I've been sailing for 40 years, and there are more sharks on land than there are in the sea," Lammiman comments. "The lengths some of them were prepared to go to to get the st ory rights we amazing."

John Goldschmidt sees the film as a rare attempt to produce a film which is both essentially British and a piece of mainstream family entertainment.

"I'd call it eccentric realism, because it's very eccentric, unapologetically English, but a feelgood film that ridicules authority and celebrates these ordinary people. It was quite difficult to make because we had to film on the high seas, but Whitby w as a wonderfully photogenic location which hasn't been used before in a movie."

For a smaludget British film Captain Jack required some extensive post-production work to enhance the performances of the actors who proved most difficult to cast - the polar bears.

"It's a character comedy but of course it's set in the great outdoors, and I wanted it as a cinema film to have a big canvas," John Goldschmidt said. "It's had pounds 1million of Lottery money and it's been pre-sold to ITV through Granada, which is a big commitment for them. The Americans wanted to change the location and it was the Lottery money that made it happen."

Jack Lammiman thinks Goldschmidt and his colleagues have done a good job, and says he likes the film very much, though he adds that it bears very, very little resemblance to actual events.

"In actual fact the Arctic is not a very good place to have a comedy," he said. "You only get one chance up there, and if you get it wrong you're dead. It was the bureaucrats back here who made the comedy."

Captain Jack is showing at the Odeon tomorrow at 6.30pm.
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Nov 20, 1998
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