Starring: Colin Firth, Rachel Weisz, David Thewlis, Mark Gatiss, Andrew Buchan
Directed By: James Marsh
Running Time: 101 Minutes
UK Release Date: 09 February 2018
BBFC Certificate: 12A
Regular readers of my reviews know that from time to time I like to attend screenings for films I know nothing about, free from any hype or expectation. With this mindset I was blown away by a little gem called Hell or High Water in 2016, but I’ve also seen some duds which I won’t mention here.
As such I went into The Mercy with no knowledge of the film beside the two leads, but had an underlying feeling that this may be a film designed to win awards due to its release in February and the fact that director James Marsh’s previous film, The Theory of Everything (2014), was both critically praised and won a lot of gongs. What I got was a perfectly fine and enjoyable film, but in all honesty it felt like a feature length drama made for the small screen, which isn’t really surprising as it’s made by BBC Films.
As per the majority of dramas I seem to watch these days, The Mercy is based on a true story. It tells the perilous tale of family focused inventor Donald Crowhurst (Colin Firth), who embarks on the 1968 solo Golden Globe sailing race, albeit with limited experience and no funding for the trip. On his journey he is faced with the decision of either continuing against increasing odds and into seemingly certain death, or falsifying his logs and lying about his progress to his family and the media back home. Either way he is at the risk of losing everything and his decisions weigh heavily upon him.
I honestly don’t know if this film was made to win awards as there is nothing exceptional about it, and that’s not an insult. It’s a fine and entertaining film with some good moments, and the way it portrays Crowhurst’s alienation and the eventual madness of his voyage is well done through the use of cinematography, haunting soundtrack, and of course Firth’s performance.
The film starts off with all the colourful pallets of the 1960’s and a sense of the ‘good old British spirit’, but turns darker as Crowhurst embarks on his voyage and understandably feels greyer and colder as the film progresses. But thankfully this movie isn’t solely focused on Crowhurst and his family as we get an insight into the financial implications and the promotion of his trip through the press which overall paints a greater picture of his actions.
David Thewlis plays press agent Rodney Hallworth and gives an impressively confident performance, but feels slightly typecast. One criticism is that he looks very similar to his boss, Ronald Hall (Mark Gatiss), but I guess having a long side parting and glasses was the standard journalist look of the 60’s.
This inclusion of the media was the more intriguing part of the story for me and the methods used by journalists to sell papers back then are still relevant today. On one side its Hallworth’s job to put an exciting spin on a story in order to captivate readers, but as we all know the media likes to build someone up and then pull them crashing down, and cash in on the subsequent misery without care for those affected.
As such we get a great performance from Rachel Weisz as Donald’s wife Clare, who is torn between supporting her husband and the prospect of financial security upon his return, and the fact she is letting him go on a potentially fatal journey while looking after their children at home.
Like all good biopics, The Mercy successfully retells the story of Crowhurst to a whole new generation and many older people who I’ve spoken to since seeing this film remember the events as they unfolded, as this was a huge story. It in part unified the country, as the public were all behind him and unaware of the lies until the truth was revealed. It is a story of British endeavour, the spirit of adventure and the quest for glory; and the reality of the ordeal and how it affects those involved. Crowhurst literally and figuratively sails off naively unprepared and into certain doom, and the parallels to Brexit don’t seem coincidental.
I have only seen one of director James Marsh’s previous films, the excellent Man on a Wire (2008), which also shares similar themes of legacy and doing the impossible. But unlike that film The Mercy certainly isn’t a feel good movie and instead of embracing those who take risks we are left feeling sorry for Crowhurst and his family back home.
Overall Verdict: This is an engrossing drama with great performances from leads Colin Firth, Rachel Weisz and David Thewlis. It paints fascinating (and still relevant) insights into the press, the quest for success and legacy, and the dangers of letting your dreams get the better of you.
Reviewer: George Elcombe