A re­mark­able film

If you’re a fan of the orig­i­nal Sun­day Times Golden Globe Race, The Mercy will not dis­ap­point

Yachting Monthly - - VIEW FROM THE HELM - Words Katy Stick­land

The Mercy is a new film about Don­ald Crowhurst and his fate­ful en­try in the 1968 Golden Globe Race. Caught be­tween a fear of fail­ure if he turned back and a fear of dy­ing if he con­tin­ued, the film plots Crowhurst’s phys­i­cal and men­tal strug­gles on board his un­fin­ished tri­maran Teign­mouth Elec­tron. It might put some peo­ple off go­ing to sea but it is, ac­cord­ing to one of our team, ‘one of the best sail­ing films I have ever seen.’ High praise in­deed. It will be in the cin­e­mas from Fe­bru­ary 9. The tim­ing of the re­lease is apt of course, given the 50th an­niver­sary of the Golden Globe Race, and the 2018 edi­tion of the event. Part his­tor­i­cal reen­act­ment, part en­durance epic, the 2018 race will see a new gen­er­a­tion of sailors set off around the world by them­selves in sturdy but steady boats, tak­ing up to a year to com­plete the loop. The idea, says the or­gan­iser, is to in­spire others that or­di­nary peo­ple and boats can achieve some­thing that re­mains, to this day, noth­ing short of re­mark­able.

the Mercy fol­lows Don­ald Crowhurst’s dis­as­trous at­tempts to win the 1968-69 race in his 41ft tri­maran, the Teign­mouth Elec­tron. Crowhurst’s boat was ill pre­pared for the voy­age, which claimed his life, and left his wife Clare a sea widow and his chil­dren fa­ther­less. The am­a­teur sailor was dubbed ‘the mys­tery man’ by the press, but never made it past the south­ern At­lantic Ocean. In­stead, he fal­si­fied his logs and re­ported fic­tional po­si­tions after re­al­is­ing that his leak­ing tri­maran would never make it through the South­ern Ocean.

Crowhurst sunk ev­ery­thing he had into the ven­ture, using his fam­ily home and his busi­ness as col­lat­eral. He had se­ri­ous doubts about the voy­age be­fore he even left the Devon port of Teign­mouth, where much of the film is shot. This con­flict be­tween his fear of dy­ing at sea or ad­mit­ting de­feat and risk­ing sub­se­quent hu­mil­i­a­tion is fas­ci­nat­ing, and his ro­man­tic hope of be­ing crowned a Bri­tish hero like Sir Fran­cis Chich­ester, had he com­pleted the voy­age, is heart­break­ing to wit­ness through film.

Ex­cel­lently por­trayed by Colin Firth, the ac­tor leaves you in no doubt of the sheer angst that Crowhurst must have suf­fered. He plays Crowhurst as a stoic, al­most sleep­walk­ing to­wards his fate and un­able to step off the run­away train he is on, cling­ing to the hope that he can prove the cyn­ics wrong and win the race. Crowhurst’s de­scent into mad­ness is not over­drama­tised, and is de­picted as a grad­ual de­cline. He fi­nally cracks when he learns of the fate of fel­low tri­maran com­peti­tor Nigel Tet­ley, who sinks and is res­cued after push­ing his boat too hard in the be­lief that Crowhurst was gain­ing on him.

A tear will cer­tainly be shed to­wards the end of the film, when Crowhurst apol­o­gises for his short­com­ings to a hal­lu­ci­na­tion of his wife. Rachel Weisz is mov­ing as Clare, bring­ing home the un­cer­tainty and fears of the of­ten-for­got­ten sailor’s wife, left wait­ing on dry land. Try­ing to hold her fam­ily to­gether, she can be seen bat­tling with her own demons after re­al­is­ing her out­wardly con­fi­dent hus­band is ter­ri­fied of head­ing out to sea. How­ever, more could cer­tainly have been made of the scene of their last night to­gether, which didn’t quite con­vey the ‘fright­ful’ ex­pe­ri­ence that Clare Crowhurst later pub­licly talked about.

Sailors will be re­lieved to know that un­like a cer­tain Robert Red­ford sail­ing film, The Mercy doesn’t leave yachts­men and women tut­ting and shak­ing their heads in dis­gust dur­ing the sail­ing scenes. Okay, so there were a few mod­ern boats in Teign­mouth Har­bour

as the Teign­mouth Elec­tron leaves the port, but other than that, the sail­ing in the film re­mains solid and true to life. With­out a doubt, it is one of the best and most au­then­tic sail­ing films that I’ve ever seen.

If you need even more of a ring­ing endorsement, one of the orig­i­nal Golden Globe Race com­peti­tors, Sir Robin Knoxjohn­ston – the only com­peti­tor to com­plete and sub­se­quently win the orig­i­nal race, in fact – said, ‘It was a great film.’ I was even lucky enough to sit in the same row as Sir Robin dur­ing the screen­ing.

A nice touch is the film’s ac­knowl­edg­ment just be­fore the end cred­its that Sir Robin do­nated his £5,000 prize money to Crowhurst’s fam­ily after his win.

the con­flict be­tween his fear of dy­ing at sea or ad­mit­ting de­feat is fas­ci­nat­ing

The Mercy is re­leased in UK cin­e­mas on Fe­bru­ary 9, ahead of the 50th an­niver­sary of the Golden Globe Race. The 2018 edi­tion of the race will start from Les Sables d’olonne on July 1 after a pa­rade of sail in Fal­mouth

Crowhurst’s Teign­mouth Elec­tron was not fully fin­ished when he set sail

Colin Firth sen­si­tively por­trays the slow un­rav­el­ling of Crowhurst’s men­tal state

The sail­ing in the film was, for the most part, con­vinc­ingly au­then­tic

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