Bri­tish star learns to sail for lat­est role based on the true story of a man’s ill-fated mis­sion to tri­umph in a round-the-world nau­ti­cal race

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Play Magazine - - PLAY - FIONA PURDON

Colin Firth found his sea legs play­ing the role of a Bri­tish man on a round-the­world voy­age When Jes­sica Wat­son com­pleted a suc­cess­ful solo cir­cum­nav­i­ga­tion of the south­ern hemi­sphere in 2010, the Queens­land teenager cap­tured the hearts and imag­i­na­tions of the pub­lic with her ex­treme feat of en­durance.

In Colin Firth’s lat­est film The Mercy, the Os­car-win­ning ac­tor takes on the role of Bri­tish sailor Don­ald Crowhurst who at­tempted a sim­i­lar chal­lenge in 1968, also amid huge pub­lic fan­fare.

While Wat­son suc­cess­fully re­turned af­ter 210 days at sea, trav­el­ling 19,631.6 nau­ti­cal miles (36,357.7km) on her Pink Lady yacht, The Mercy’s di­rec­tor James Marsh ( The The­ory of Ev­ery­thing) says Crowhurst en­dured a very dif­fer­ent fate as one of nine con­tes­tants in a solo roundthe-world-yacht race.

“With Jes­sica Wat­son it was such an ex­tra­or­di­nary thing for a girl of that age, to have that ambition and to pull it off with such dis­tinc­tion,’’ he says.

“It’s a very in­ter­est­ing com­par­i­son with a mid­dle- class English busi­ness­man who sailed in a very dif­fer­ent era.

“He was al­most to­tally cut off from the rest of the world, while th­ese days we know ex­actly where sailors are ... and there is more au­dio con­tact with the world now.’’

Crowhurst, a marine sales­man and in­ven­tor who en­tered the race to boost his fail­ing busi­ness, lacked openo­cean sail­ing skills and ex­pe­ri­ence. His tri­maran was not fully equipped for the dan­ger­ous South­ern Ocean, miss­ing vi­tal safety equip­ment and ham­pered by a leak­ing hatch.

Crowhurst, who left from Devon in Eng­land, was spon­sored by mil­lion­aire busi­ness­man Stan­ley Best (Ken Stott) and took on ex-Fleet Street re­porter Rod­ney Hall­worth (David Thewlis) as his press agent. Even though Crowhurst faces fi­nan­cial ruin if he does not fin­ish the race, he se­cretly aban­dons the event and re­ports false po­si­tions af­ter fac­ing dif­fi­culty al­most from the start.

His loyal and lov­ing wife Clare (Rachel Weisz) and four young chil­dren, who idolise their large-than-life father, wait at home for his re­turn.

Marsh spent many hours lis­ten­ing to au­dio­tapes made by an in­creas­ingly un­hinged Crowhurst be­fore his dis­ap­pear­ance dur­ing the race.

“On a yacht on your own is a very lonely place in a storm,” he says.

“With Crowhurst it was a com­bi­na­tion of iso­la­tion and de­cep­tion which led him into ex­treme men­tal dis­or­der.’’

Dur­ing the mak­ing of the movie in Malta, in the cen­tral Mediter­ranean, Marsh dis­cov­ered he was “not a nat­u­ral sailor’’ – un­like Firth, who does most of his own sail­ing.

“Colin spent some time learn­ing the ba­sics of how to sail and be­came a flu­ent sailor. I wanted to shoot the film in a real sea, for bet­ter or worse,’’ Marsh says. “Colin also did a lot of re­search into his char­ac­ter; we had end­less con­ver­sa­tions about how Colin should play him. Colin is an easy ac­tor to work with and a nat­u­ral col­lab­o­ra­tor.’’

Marsh vowed never to re­turn to the sea for an­other project and has re­ceived “wel­come respite’’ with his cur­rent Michael Caine movie The King of Thieves, which fea­tures a team of vet­eran rob­bers do­ing one last job.

Marsh ad­mits he is at­tracted to sto­ries which cover ex­treme emo­tions and sit­u­a­tions af­ter di­rect­ing the five-time Os­car-nom­i­nated movie The The­ory of

Tarantino, who is writ­ing and di­rect­ing, de­scribed it as “a story that takes place in Los An­ge­les in 1969, at the height of hip­pie Hol­ly­wood”.

DiCaprio will play Rick Dal­ton, for­mer star of a western TV se­ries, while Pitt will be his long­time stunt dou­ble, Cliff Booth.

“Both are strug­gling to make it in a Hol­ly­wood they don’t recog­nise any­more. But Rick has a very fa­mous nextdoor neigh­bour – Sharon Tate,” Tarantino added.

The fate of Sharon Tate went down in his­tory when in 1968, the preg­nant Tate, was bru­tally mur­dered by the Man­son “fam­ily” in her Los Ev­ery­thing (2014). Ed­die Red­mayne won an Os­car for his por­trayal of the­o­ret­i­cal physi­cist Stephen Hawk­ing, who was di­ag­nosed with mo­tor neu­rone dis­ease as a bril­liant 21-year-old Ox­ford Uni­ver­sity stu­dent. “Hawk­ing’s chal­lenges came from out­side with ill­ness while Crowhurst’s chal­lenges were ones he cre­ated for him­self,’’ Marsh says. The Mercy opens in cin­e­mas to­day An­ge­les home. She was preg­nant at the time to her hus­band and Hol­ly­wood di­rec­tor Ro­man Polan­ski.

Her friends Jay Se­bring, Abi­gail Fol­ger and Wo­j­ciech Frykowski were also mur­dered.

Gold Coast ac­tor Mar­got Rob­bie has been ru­moured to play the role of Tate, with Tarantino say­ing that he would love for Rob­bie to play the part, and Rob­bie ex­press­ing her en­thu­si­asm for the role too.

The film will be re­leased world­wide on Au­gust 9, 2019, the 50th an­niver­sary of the day that the Man­son fam­ily com­mit­ted the LaBianca mur­ders and the day af­ter Tate was killed.

Don­ald Crowhurst (played by Colin Firth) be­comes in­creas­ingly un­hinged as the ac­tion un­folds in The Mercy.

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