Clavell's King Rat impresses New York film critics

James Clavell
James Clavell

James Clavell, best known for his novels Shogun and Tai-Pan, was in the spotlight this week in 1965 after a film based on King Rat, his prisoner-of-war (POW) novel set in Changi Prison, made a strong impression on New York film critics.

The film, also called King Rat, was described as "shocking" or "lacerating". One critic even called it the most powerful POW drama since Bridge On The River Kwai.

The novel was drawn from Clavell's own experiences. Born in Australia but raised in England, Clavell was serving in the Royal Artillery when he was captured by the Japanese during World War II. He spent a few years in Changi as a POW and based King Rat on the people he knew there.

In 1963, two years before the movie was released, Clavell made a trip to Singapore to revisit Changi Prison. He said then: "I look back to my years in Changi without hate, because out of them has come great wealth for me spiritually and materially."

After the war, he moved to the United States and worked in Hollywood as a writer, producer and director on movies like To Sir, With Love. After King Rat, he wrote the books that would become bestsellers: Tai-Pan, which is set in Hong Kong, and Shogun, about Japanese warlords.

He died at age 69 in 1994.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 25, 2015, with the headline 'Clavell's King Rat impresses New York film critics'. Print Edition | Subscribe