Empire (Australasia) - - On Screen - AN­DREW LOWRY


DI­REC­TOR James Marsh CAST Colin Firth, Rachel Weisz, David Thewlis

PLOT Real-life am­a­teur yachts­man Don­ald Crowhurst (Firth) en­ters a 1968 roundthe-world race; to­tally out of his depth, he be­gins to fal­sify his logs to con­ceal his fail­ure. Alone in the wide ocean, this choice comes at a high price.

YOU’RE GO­ING TO need to bat­ten down the hatches when The Mercy is re­leased, lest you founder in the hur­ri­cane of hot takes it will in­spire. But you don’t need a galac­tic brain to tease out a po­lit­i­cal read­ing from this true story of a well-spo­ken Bri­ton set­ting sail into a sit­u­a­tion he is nei­ther pre­pared nor qual­i­fied for and whose blood­y­mind­ed­ness, re­fusal to coun­te­nance hu­mil­i­a­tion and to­tal cap­tiv­ity to his fi­nan­cial back­ers lead to first de­ceit, then mad­ness, and ul­ti­mately de­struc­tion. Di­rec­tor James Marsh does ev­ery­thing to of­fer com­men­tary on cur­rent events short of cast­ing Boris John­son in the lead.

Still, The Mercy brings a lot more to the ta­ble than a busy few days on the Com­ment Is Free desk, not least of them Colin Firth. He’s al­ways been a paragon of clenched-jawed English-not-british­ness, but in re­cent years this qual­ity has been thrown away, iro­nised by Brid­get Jones and the Kings­man films or fetishised to the point of cliché in The King’s Speech.

Here, he’s back in busi­ness as an avatar of well-born but non-aristo Eng­land who em­barks on a round-the­world yacht­ing ex­pe­di­tion he is woe­fully un­der-pre­pared for. Half the cru­elty of this un­com­pro­mis­ing film is in see­ing the night­mar­ish story play out across a face that brings such ob­vi­ous her­itage with it.

Firth’s ag­o­nies over his lies to his wife over his ra­dio wrench their way across his face, and as his men­tal state de­te­ri­o­rates, it’s like watch­ing a loved one lose their mind. There are lots of ways of look­ing at Crowhurst’s story, from a Her­zog-style sur­ren­der to na­ture’s in­fi­nite in­dif­fer­ence to a 1986 Soviet film’s view of him as the ul­ti­mate vic­tim of cap­i­tal­ism, but Marsh and Firth wisely don’t over-egg the al­le­gory. Make no mis­take, while the open­ing half hour can feel like a Devon-set Heart­beat, The Mercy’s ti­tle is sav­agely ironic once we get to the sea.

Crowhurst’s fake re­ported po­si­tions, de­liv­ered as he me­an­ders around the At­lantic in a fail­ing boat, aren’t cheat­ing, or self-ag­gran­dis­e­ment. He wants to sur­vive the ocean en­vi­ron­ment in a boat he knows won’t make it, but he can’t turn back as he’ll lose the house he put up as col­lat­eral with his spon­sor. He can’t get too suc­cess­ful or his lo­ca­tions will come into ques­tion and his ‘sin of con­ceal­ment’ will be ex­posed. Crowhurst check­mates him­self into sail­ing the ocean in a cir­cle while ly­ing to his fam­ily — some­thing that would make any­one lose their minds. That Crowhurst does all this while try­ing to mud­dle through, as is pu­ta­tively the

Bri­tish way, is the cru­ellest twist of all.

What­ever read­ing you want to as­sign to this, and there will be many, it’s a sim­ple story of a man wan­der­ing into a sit­u­a­tion that will kill him, and do­ing so mostly be­cause he wants to be good egg. In truth, its com­mit­ment to be­ing a story of sui­cide-by-pluck make this not ex­actly one to put a spring in your step, but what a self-por­trait for Bri­tain to pro­duce.

VER­DICT De­spite the hint of a stiff-up­per­lip kind of re­serve, this is as­ton­ish­ingly bru­tal. And Firth’s per­for­mance makes this dark, dark story land.

Colin Firth’s Don­ald Crowhurst floun­ders at sea.

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