Warning: This synopsis contains plot spoilers
It's 1915, and Great Britain is at war. Aged only 17, writer Rudyard Kipling's son John "Jack," like most of his generation, is swept up in the enthusiasm to fight the Germans; a sentiment stoked vigorously by his father. However, Jack is cripplingly short sighted and the Army has rejected him twice, rendering him too myopic even for an Army suffering thousands of casualties a week and desperate for recruits. Yet Rudyard is determined that his son should go to the frontlines, like countless other sons, and fight for the values that he, Rudyard, espouses so publicly.
Using his fame and influence, Rudyard persuades Lord Roberts on his deathbed to get Jack a commission in the Irish guards. This intervention is barely tolerated by Rudyard's American wife Carrie and daughter Elise, as they disagree Jack should fight, and fear for his safety on the front line.
Jack is instantly popular with his troop — he is a great leader and trains tirelessly to overcome the disability that is his eyesight. Six months later, Jack sails to France as a lieutenant. In his pocket is a spare pair of spectacles and written permission from his father to travel to the frontlines before his eighteenth birthday. On the day of his eighteenth birthday, Jack is told they will be deployed the following day. Days later, the Kipling family are informed that Jack is "missing believed wounded," news which devastates them and leaves Elise furious at her father for his part in Jack's fate.
Desperately clinging to the hope that their son is still alive, Carrie and Rudyard scour hospitals and obsessively track down and interview survivors. Two years later, Jack's friend and fellow Irish Guard Private Bowe arrives at Bateman's, the Kiplings' home in Sussex. Suffering from shell shock, he finally describes to the assembled family what had happened in the Battle of Loos. The searching and the hoping were over.
In September 1915, Jack Kipling was killed in action. He died in the pouring rain, unable to see a thing. He had been in France for three weeks. Jack remained on the list of soldiers "missing believed wounded" for two years. The effect on Rudyard and Carrie was incalculable.