Kidnapped (1995)

Inciting Event: David Balfour arrives at the House of Shaws, meets his crazy uncle Ebenezer, and sees a clue that his father was, in fact, the older of the brothers—which, now that he’s dead, makes Davy the heir.

Subplot: Colin Campbell the Red Fox (the king’s current factor in Scotland and one who opposes the surviving Jacobite rebels) threatens Mr. Reed, the new lawyer down from London, which prompts Mr. Reed to start hatching a plot to kill him.

First Plot Point: Davy’s uncle has him kidnapped and sent away on the Break Covenant, to be sold as a slave in South Carolina.

Subplot: Alan Breck Stewart, a Jacobite on his way to France, mistakes the Break Covenant for the ship he was to meet and accidentally comes aboard, encountering Davy for the first time.

First Pinch Point: A storm wrecks the ship, separates Davy and Alan, and casts them ashore.

Subplot: Ewan of Appen runs away from Mr. Reed’s men and, dying, tells Alan that Mr. Reed has a plot to incriminate Alan’s kinsman James of the Glen.

Midpoint: Reed has Campbell assassinated, Alan framed, and Davy marked as accomplice. Davy and Alan reunite and flee.

Second Pinch Point: Campbell’s true murderer is killed by Mr. Reed (to keep him silent), and Alan is captured.

Third Plot Point: James of the Glen is hanged, and Davy helps Alan escape.

Climax: Mr. Reed sets a trap for Alan and Davy, which they escape.

Climactic Moment: Alan kills Mr. Reed by locking him in his carriage and driving it over a cliff.

Resolution: Alan leaves to take the Jacobites’ gold to France. Davy stays behind—flush with his reclaimed inheritance—to marry a Highland girl.

Notes: There are a number of things I like about this movie: the unique take on the post-Jacobite Rebellion, the delightful characters, and the thematic resonance. But, frankly, its structure is a mess. This is a three-hour television movie that suffers from being stuffed with unnecessary and divergent subplots in order to fill out its length.

In contrast to such movies such as The Aviator and The Great Escape, we can see by a glance at Kidnapped’s main plot points that it’s scattered. The First Act focuses on Davy’s conflict with his uncle. The entire First Half of the Second Act offers the entertaining but extraneous battle aboard the ship as Alan and Davy fight off the crew who has kidnapped them. Then, after the First Pinch Point, the story finally gains the tight focus it will maintain throughout the Second Act: on the conflict between Mr. Reed and the Stewarts.

Then, once again, the Third Act runs away with itself. The tension and conflict dissipate almost entirely, and the plot offers such random episodes as Alan teaching Davy to fight (a skill he never makes use of), Davy getting to know the girl Mary whom he will marry, and Alan drinking and gambling with the unnecessary character Cluny. Finally, Davy returns to Essendeen to reclaim his inheritance, while Alan wanders back to take care of business with Mr. Reed.

Part of the problem here may well be trying to stay true to the book while injecting a more action-driven plot (and the action-driven plot is by far the more interesting). But the fact remains that is an excellent example of how you can have all your major plot points in the right place and still end up with a poorly structured story.

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