The Mercy
dir James Marsh
scr Scott Z Burns
prd Graham Broadbent, Scott Z Burns, Peter Czernin, Nicolas Mauvernay, Jacques Perrin
with Colin Firth, Rachel Weisz, David Thewlis, Ken Stott, Andrew Buchan, Simon McBurnley, Oliver Maltman, Sam Hoare, Kit Connor, Eleanor Stagg, Jonathan Bailey, Sebastian Armesto
release UK 9.Feb.18
17/UK BBC 1h42
The Mercy
Sailing to nowhere: Firth

weisz thewlis stott
See also:
Deep Water (2006)
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
The Mercy Based on a true story, this seagoing adventure centres on a big mystery, so filmmaker James Marsh and his adept cast dig deep under the surface to create a provocative and somewhat enigmatic exploration of stubborn ambition. It's a beautifully assembled film that avoids the pitfalls of these kinds of biopics, so even if it's a rather unsatisfying, it's darkly meaningful.

In 1968, amateur sailor Donald Crowhurst (Firth) is inspired by an open challenge to be the first person to sail solo nonstop around the world. As various teams get ready to race, he designs his own trimaran, stoking sponsorship with press coverage from journalists Rodney and Ian (Thewlis and Bachan). His wife Clare (Weisz) is supportive, but only because she doesn't think he'll actually head out to sea alone for seven months. And as the deadline approaches, Donald has to decide whether to go forward with an unfinished boat or give up the dream.

Marsh and writer Burns wisely opt to focus on the internal feelings rather than the details of the plot, for reasons that become increasingly clear. And this plays to the strengths of Firth and Weisz, who use understatement to convey their characters' emotional journeys. It's refreshing that Firth hasn't gone method for the role (losing a lot of weight, for example), because the way he plays Donald's physical and mental odyssey is strikingly resonant. Weisz has some terrific speeches, but it's her longing glances that tell Clare's story.

Side characters are also beautifully played but far less defined. They add a chorus of comedy and interest, allowing the script to quietly explore some intriguing angles on present-day issues like the stresses placed on people who suddenly find themselves in the news. This film may predate social media by some 40 years, but it feels relevant today. And the story elements dealing with sponsorship, media coverage and national pride are also very timely.

Marsh shoots the film in period style, with slightly washed-out colours and a real sense of a British seaside town that finds itself in the national or even international spotlight. Even viewers who know this story will find plenty to hold the interest, from the way the skilful cinematography depicts Donald's adventure on the wide-open seas to the moving insights into his thoughts and feelings. So even if the story feels perhaps a little too internalised, it's the kind of film that leaves us thinking.

cert 12 themes, language, violence 9.Nov.17

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
send your review to Shadows... The Mercy Still waiting for your comments ... don't be shy.

© 2018 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall