With the passing of Bob Hoskins last week on April 29, Admin and I thought we’d like to remember him by drawing attention to one of his lesser-known works: the very sweet and funny “Captain Jack” (1999), in which he butted heads with Patrick Malahide’s delightfully bureaucratic Mr. Lancing, of the Marine Safety Agency.
Admin: Captain Jack is a lovely, charming and happy film which is the perfect way to remember Bob Hoskins’ amazing talent.
RF: In this scene, Jack Armistead (Hoskins) has decided that he wants to bring fame and fortune to the village of Whitby, Yorkshire (and himself), and that the best way to do that is by recreating the voyage of an 18th Century whaler, Captain William Scoresby, to the Arctic. However, he must first pass Mr. Lancing’s safety inspection to get the necessary papers – and Mr. Lancing takes his duties very seriously!
Lancing: Captain Jack Armistead?
Lancing: Mr. Lancing. The Mr. Lancing. Principal Surveyor, Marine Safety Agency, Department of Environment, Transport, and the region’s Middlesbrough office. Statutory inspection for an ocean-going certificate, under the Merchant Shipping Act 1894, as amended 1995. Permission to come aboard?
RF: I love the way Mr. Lancing makes sure to emphasize that he’s “The Mr. Lancing”, just so Jack doesn’t get him confused with any other Mr. Lancings with the Marine Safety Agency. I also love the way he rattles off his complete title (you just know he has a little sign on his desk that he polishes every day) plus the complete regulations for inspecting Jack’s ship. He also seems incredibly overdressed for a ship inspection, but I bet the crease in his trousers is never put in jeopardy by all the climbing around he does.
Admin: The “the Mr. Lancing” line is so odd and funny. Does it mean he knows his reputation precedes him? If it does, it wouldn’t be in a good way, but I think Mr. Lancing likes to be known as a bureaucrat not to be trifled with. I love Jack’s bemused expression when he hears “the Mr. Lancing” — he looks to his Australian friend like he’s saying “can you believe this guy?”. I’m sure they were both very impressed he is able to remember that long introduction.
Jack: My pleasure. [sotto voce to Andy] The ship is sea-worthy. Pain in the ass inspection, especially to those who think with their belt. [Heartily] Welcome aboard, Mr. Lancing!
Lancing: [ignores Jack’s offer of a handshake, begins looking around suspiciously]
Jack [to Andy]: If he finds a leak, he’ll bandage it in red tape.
Lancing: This hatch open, please.
Jack [surprised]: Down below?
[Andy opens the hatch and Lancing climbs down.]
RF: We already know that Lancing is bound and determined to find as many violations as humanly possible (he was gleefully speculating in an earlier scene how much Jack owned in fines and saying that he wouldn’t be going out on the ocean “if [he] had anything to say about it”, but he’s still hilariously officious from the first moment he gets on the Yorkshire Beauty. There’s not a speck of dirt on either that fluorescent safety vest (what does he need a safety vest for??) or that pristinely white hardhat.
Admin: The way Jack says, “my pleasure” is so definitive. One rather gets the impression he is just glad to shut Mr. Lancing up for a moment or two as he comes aboard. What does “think with their belts” even mean? Nothing nice, I’m sure. 🙂 I love the rude way Mr. Lancing just stomps right between them, ignoring the proffered handshake. You can tell he is in a hurry to start finding all those lovely violations he knows he is going to find. The safety vest and hardhat do seem overkill, but we know this is a man who takes every health and safety regulation to heart. Plus, he probably enjoys putting them on.
RF: Google was no help to me on what “think with your belt” might mean, so unless I misheard it (a distinct possibility), it shall have to remain a mystery. And I think you’re right, Lancing probably really enjoys decking himself out in his vest and hardhat before setting off to work. 😉
[Later, Lancing is enumerating Jack’s violations.]
Lancing: Ship’s bell is four inches in diameter instead of six…
Jack [incredulously]: Ship’s bell??
Lancing [definitively]: Ship’s bell.
Jack: Who gives a monkey’s??
Lancing: The Marine Safety Agency does.
Jack: Clangs loud enough… [rings bell enthusiastically, as neighbouring fishermen wonder what’s going on] There. Half Whitby’s heard it.
Lancing: I can see it, and it’s two inches too small.
Jack: I don’t need a bell, I’ve got radar!
RF: You can tell that Lancing really loves his job (and that clipboard). He’s taking a certain amount of glee in this, although he’s being very business-like. He’s also so good that he can tell at a glance that the bell is too small; he doesn’t even have to measure it. I also love the way he replies matter-of-factly, “The Marine Safety Agency does,” in reply to Jack’s “Who gives a monkey’s??” This is going to be one of the most thorough ship inspections in Whitby history.
Admin: Lancing does know his rules. I love the swift back and forth he and Jack have going on there. You can see both men are very stubborn, but only one of them has a clipboard. 😉
Lancing: Your ship’s whistle is made in Denmark, and does not meet with British specifications.
Jack: Well, it works. It whistles, I’ll show ya.
Lancing: I’m sure it does, but not with an approved British whistle.
RF: I love the way he says “approved British whistle”. The Yorkshire accent helps add a bit of sauciness (as does the tiny smirk), but you can tell he’s really enjoying this. And you just know that he has all of these regulations memorized down to the last, miniscule detail.
Admin: Mr. Lancing has an answer for almost anything, and when he doesn’t (such as with the debate of radar vs. bells), he starts talking about whistles. Are “approved British whistles” so much better than Danish ones? Today it would be made in China. 😉 His accent is rather fetching. It almost makes him seem reasonable. I like that they went that route rather than have him speak “posh”. The warm voice is an interesting contrast to the superciliousness of his duties.
RF: Very true, it was an excellent idea not to have Mr. Lancing speak “posh”. He and Jack have probably lived in Whitby for the same amount of time and know each other very well – especially considering all the unpaid fines Jack has.
[continuing] Your emergency flares are beyond the stipulated age limits… You need fluorescent tape on your lifebelts, canvas covers on your ventilators, and a new fire extinguisher in your engine room.
RF: Okay, most of those sound rather important, so Lancing isn’t doing this entirely to take the mickey out of Jack. And to be fair, the Yorkshire Beauty does look like it’s in terrible shape. But still, I am amazed that after clambering around all over the ship, measuring bells and whistles and whatnot, Lancing still does not have a single speck of dirt on his fluorescent vest, nor on his suit. And he must have the balance of a goat to do all that in dress shoes. I do feel sorry for Jack, following Lancing rather forlornly as all of these violations keep mounting up.
Admin: Agreed, poor Jack seems so rumpled and forlorn in contrast. I like how Lancing’s pin neat appearance emphasizes Jack’s overall scruffiness which does indeed overflow to his boat. It makes us want him to prove that the Yorkshire Beauty (beauty being in the eye of the beholder, of course) can do it even if not all of Mr. Lancing’s points of complaints are of a frivolous nature.
Jack: Anything more, while we’re on a roll, eh?
Lancing: Yes, you need another three inches of sand in your fire buckets.
Jack: All right, I’ll put in four.
Lancing: Four would be one too many.
RF: I love Lancing’s satisfaction when he says “Four would be one too many.” And you just know that he’d come back with a special ruler to measure it – that is, if he can’t tell just by eye. He probably tastes or smells the sand, too, to make sure that it’s approved British sand, not that cheap, knock-off Danish sand.
Admin: It is as though he is speaking to a child the way he tells Jack not to put four inches in the bucket. I am curious as to why four would be too many though.
Now, when all the requirements are met, I shall return and give clearance, if warranted. Until such clearance is obtained, using the powers of compliance and detention vested in me by the Marine Safety Agency, I hereby assess your vessel on the required form as “Unfit for the ocean”. Your movement is accordingly restricted to three miles out of Whitby. Thank ye for your time.
RF: Lancing is actually letting Jack off with a bunch of relatively small, if annoying – although some do sound important – things to fix. All things considered, it’s actually a pretty light penalty; although, of course, we’re not meant to sympathize with Lancing and it puts a big crimp in Jack’s plans. Lancing does have a smug, slightly pompous air of great satisfaction about him, but he’s actually still pretty restrained. He even thanked Jack! Okay, not very sincerely, but he did! 😉
Admin: He is a bit prissy the way he says all that, and he is still acting as though he’s speaking to a simpleton and while perhaps a bit reckless, Jack is no simpleton. I love the way he waggles his finger too. It is a nicely officious touch.
[Lancing gets off the boat and is just about to leave, when…]
Jack: You jumped-up, bloody…!!
Lancing [pauses, then turns around with a smirk]: As you wish… Wednesday afternoon, high water, we’ll have you hauled up on the slip, take a good look at your bottom. In the meantime, this is a detention order. You’re now restricted to the harbour.
[Lancing turns and jogs energetically up the berth stairs.]
Jack: Give my regards to Mrs. Dracula…
RF: The gloves come off after the name-calling and Lancing decides to pull out his big guns. I like his thoughtful pause just before he turns around, then he has an obvious, unconcealed smirk of vengeful pleasure as he writes up the detention order. The order also means that Jack can’t rely on his usual means of making money: taking tourists on sight-seeing trips around Whitby, so it’s a huge monkey wrench in Jack’s plans.
Admin: The pause as he straightens his shoulders, the turn, the smirk, and the clipboard wielding are all kind of gunslinger-ish. Except it is high water instead of high noon and a pen instead of a Smith & Wesson.
RF: That’s an excellent comparison. Back in his office, I’m sure Mr. Lancing fancies himself a bit of a gunslinger.
RF: We do get another pause when Jack says, “Give my regards to Mrs. Dracula” (which is a pretty good line 😀 ), but Lancing seems to feel he’s done enough for one day and doesn’t take Jack up on that one. Although we’re sure that Mrs.
Dracula Lancing is a perfectly lovely woman who sends her husband off to work every morning with sandwiches and a thermos of hot tea.
Admin: The Dracula line is lovely. I love the pause; you know he briefly considered if there was anything more he could do. 🙂
RF: This movie was a wonderful opportunity for Mr. Malahide to show his comedic chops alongside Bob Hoskins, even if he was supposed to be the villain of the piece. Mr. Lancing was the very picture of delighted bureaucracy as he racked up violation after violation (the bits with the bell, whistle, and sand were my favourites) culminating in his definite smirk of satisfaction at issuing the detention order. Both he and Jack are pushing each other to see how much they can get away with, but it’s Lancing who has the power on his side – which makes what happens next so very interesting. They played off of each other very well, and the result was a delightful little scene. 🙂
Admin: It is a very sweet film, so even the red tape villain winds up being a near lovable character. The push and shove they had going on is very fun to watch. And Patrick Malahide plays the officious comedic bureaucrat just right without going into buffoonery or too much spitefulness. And, Bob Hoskins’ Captain Jack is a character we can all root for without descending into smugness which happens in some “underdog does good” type films. It is a really nicely done family film that a wide audience can enjoy.