Monday 4 September 2023

The Mercy - 2017 film review

The Mercy is a film which tells the story of Donald Crowhurst, which caused quite a sensation back in the late 60s. It's a story I remember from the time, but I've never studied it in detail and this version - very sympathetic towards Crowhurst - puts an interesting spin on a tale about a man who, with minimal experience, decides to go in for a solo round the world boat race, taking inspiration from the exploits of Sir Francis Chichester (played in the film by Simon McBurney).

The received wisdom has always been that Crowhurst was a fantasist who was simply incapable of achieving his goal and, due to fear of being found out (and financially ruined) set out to make false claims about his trip. For a while, it seemed as though he would return to Britain a hero. But then he lost radio contact and his boat was eventually found - but not Crowhurst. After that, it emerged that he hadn't travelled as far as he'd claimed. But an air of mystery has always clung to the case, and that in part explains its fascination.

The excellent Colin Firth plays Crowhurst as a decent family man with three young children (although in real life he had four) and a devoted wife, Clare (played by Rachel Weisz). We see him as an inventor and small businessman who is not particularly successful. When the race is announced he sees a chance of obtaining fame and fortune.

He acquires a press agent (David Thewlis) and a financial backer (Ken Stott) and, despite Clare's doubts, sets about raising funds for his epic voyage on the trimaran Teignmouth Electron. The picture created of Teignmouth society is appealing and made me want to spend more time there on my next visit to the south west. Director James Marsh and writer Scott Z. Burns get over the risk of endless scenes on the ocean by intercutting those scenes with what is happening back home and also scenes involving the Crowhursts.

This is a good film, which captures the enigma of Donald Crowhurst quite well, although I'd have liked a bit more insight into his background - what made him the man he was? Ultimately, despite the fraud element, it's a drama about a man with a dream that he's incapable of fulfilling, and the disaster to which that leads. Recommended.

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