Film Review & Trailer: The Mercy

Frances Winston reviews this film about Donald Crowhurst, which is based on a true story

Directed by: James Marsh – Starring: Colin Firth, Rachel Weisz, David Thewlis, Ken Stott, Jonathan Bailey

It seems like there is something of an influx of fact-based flicks hitting screens at the moment. This is no exception. However, unless you are of a certain age and demographic, it is a story you are unlikely to have heard.

Donald Crowhurst (Firth) was an amateur sailor, who attempted to complete the Sunday Times Golden Globe Race in 1968. Unfortunately for him, his unfinished boat was unlikely to be up to the task, so he devised an elaborate ruse whereby he reported false positions to make it look like he was indeed circumnavigating the earth.

However, the gruelling race took its toll on numerous other competitors, who withdrew at various points, leaving Donald ostensibly in with a chance of winning. Realising that if he won, his log books and records would be scrutinised, and his deceit would come to light, he chose to take his own life.

Such a tragic tale of the human condition was clearly begging for the big-screen treatment, and is an interesting choice by director Marsh as his follow up to the acclaimed The Theory of Everything.

He resists the temptation to go down the All Is Lost (the 2013 Robert Redford vehicle) route, and have Firth alone on-screen in a boat for two hours, and rather tries to give you a proper insight into his motivation, and a proper feel for the circumstances that ultimately led to Donald’s demise. Weisz plays his picture-perfect wife, who is required to do much lip-trembling as she anxiously awaits updates from her husband.

Since Crowhurst was keeping logs, and had also brought along a recorder from the BBC to document his journey, much is known of the facts surrounding this story, although in parts they take a bit of dramatic licence.

Firth himself is 20 years older than Crowhurst was at the time, and although he looks amazing for a man of his age (57 fact fans) it is a bit of a stretch to believe he is a man in his mid-30s. This aside, he gives a fine performance, albeit in the same vein as so many of his other previous stiff-lipped characters.

Unfortunately, in allowing him enough screen-time to let the character of Crowhurst suitably breathe, the development of other characters suffers, and although they are based on real-life people, they often feel like their only purpose is exposition.

Even Weisz (who, remember, is an Oscar-winner) is given very little to do, other than the aforementioned lip-trembling. Fortunately, there is some stunning cinematography to distract from this – particularly in scenes where he lands in Argentina against the competition rules (which is a moot point, since he was faking his progress anyway).

Even if you don’t know the story, it doesn’t take a rocket-scientist to figure out that Crowhurst’s plan isn’t going to work out well. Watching his descent into madness, as he slowly loses his grip on reality following the realisation that his plot is unravelling, is both fascinating and disturbing. Although he has no one to bounce off, these are some of Firth’s best scenes, and serve to remind that he can play something more than stoic.

This is a stirring tragedy that will enthral audiences, partly because of the sheer folly of his endeavours (even though you know it happened you can’t quite believe he’d be so foolish) and partly because it reminds us of man’s centuries-old desire to conquer the high seas, often to his own detriment.

I defy anyone to watch this and not immediately google Donald Crowhurst afterwards.

In Cinemas 9th February! See Trailer Below:

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