The problem with seeing a film based on historical fact is that you know the outcome from the start. Never mind spoiler alerts, the story on which The Mercy is based is well documented and would be well known to those with an interest in maritime history. With the plot pretty much set in stone, it's then a matter of how well the story is re-told and depicted on screen.
The Mercy tells the story of Englishman Donald Crowhurst's attempt to become the first man to sail around the world, solo and non-stop, in the Golden Globe Race. The race was inspired by Francis Chichester's successful solo round-the-world voyage in 1966, where he had sailed the clipper routes, stopping in Sydney, to achieve a record round-the-world time of nine months and one day.
Colin Firth plays sailor Donald Crowhurst in The Mercy (Courtesy of StudioCanal)
To top Chichester's achievements, race sponsors set the goal of 'non-stop' circumnavigation. Nine sailors competed in the race, including Crowhurst. Only one completed the race, and was awarded the Golden Globe Trophy and a £5,000 prize.
The film opens in the picturesque seaside town of Teignmouth, Crowhurst's hometown. Crowhurst (Colin Firth) is portrayed as a loving husband to Clare (Rachel Weisz), and devoted father to their three children, in idyllic family scenes. What doesn't appear to be going so well is Crowhurst's business; we see him at a trade show attempting to sell a navigational device he has developed, without success. The appeal of a £5,000 prize, along with the opportunity to draw attention to his maritime products, had to have been great for Crowhurst, who was a relatively inexperienced sailor and in fact, lacked a vessel suitable to compete in the race.
Rachel Weisz as Clare Crowhurst (Courtesy of StudioCanal)
Crowhurst designed and commissioned his own vessel, choosing a trimaran for speed. He started his voyage on the last possible day allowable for the race, in October 1968. There was a considerable rush to complete the boat, the Teignmouth Electron, and as late as the day before he was due to leave, Crowhurst was expressing doubts about the readiness of his vessel.
What follows in the movie are scenes of Crowhurst at sea. His doubts were well founded; it quickly becomes apparent the Teignmouth Electron is not up to the task. How Crowhurst deals with this is the nub of the remainder of the movie, interspersed with scenes showing his family in Teignmouth, at first elated, and then more and more concerned as time drifts on.
Clare Crowhurst (Rachel Weisz) and family (Courtesy of StudioCanal)
Colin Firth's performance as Crowhurst is solid, and a mainstay for the film. His depiction of Crowhurst is believable and he navigates the personality changes through the different phases of the voyage most convincingly. Rachel Weisz as Clare Crowhurst has also been well cast, and is credible as the upstanding 1960s wife and mother.
I liked the way the final scenes of the movie were handled, conveying a sense of mystery about the outcome, Harold Holt-esque, rather than the hard-edged certainty pointed to in some documented histories of the race.
One sequence in the film that did not work, I felt, was the stopover in Argentina. It was clunky, broke the continuity of the film, and the acting was unconvincing. It is tempting to say it could have been excised from the film altogether, however, it is a pivotal aspect of the story and was rightly included. I just wish it had been better handled.
Overall though, I found The Mercy an engaging, well-directed film that maintained audience interest throughout its 101 minute running time. I would give it a solid 7/10 score.
Those susceptible to seasickness be warned - there are some nausea-inducing scenes where you will feel glad your seat is firmly anchored!
The official trailer for The Mercy will give you a sense of the style of this film:
The Mercy is due for general release on 8th March 2018. Check closer to the date for screening details and classification.