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