This film is one of those where it’s a true story, but sort of unknown to the average person in the modern world. I hadn’t heard of Donald Crowhurst and his tragedy until this film started. It’s 1968 and amateur sailor Crowhurst (Colin Firth) has decided he’s going to compete in a sailing race around the world, and he means to do it all in record time. His wife Clare Crowhurst (Rachel Weisz) can’t quite believe he’s going to do it, but then he actually sets off. From the very start it’s clear how unprepared he is, and how tough the journey is going to be.
There’s a sense of hopelessness in this film, and a feeling of dread from the beginning. It’s not a spoiler to say he dies out at sea, because one it’s a true story that has been told on screen many times, and two because the film presents it as a desperate effort all the way through. Before he leaves as an audience member you are frustrated and worried, because you can tell that it is all going to go horribly wrong. Crowhurst gets caught up in the pressure of going because of the money he has been given by sponsors, and all the media attention on him. This creates an unsettling viewing, but one done well by director James Marsh (The Theory of Everything). He manages to make it still interesting to watch whilst you feel like shouting at the screen “DON’T GO!”
There are some liberties taken to get to when Crowhurst actually leaves, so the building the boat and preparation is cut through quickly. However this lack of depth is made up for later on the film through flashbacks that mostly work. There are a couple that are a bit sappy, and cliché British but other than that the drama landed. I really felt like even though Crowhurst made the wrong decisions, they were understandable. And Colin Firth is great in the film. He really captures the shift from optimism to despair in Crowhurst, and his physical anguish as the runtime progresses is also convincing. Weisz is stoic and so there isn’t really a massive emotional release moment for her. Her performance of trying to hold it all together adds another level of misery to the film. And David Thewlis playing quite a sleazy guy is entertaining to watch.
Overall I thought the film was good. The directing was neat with some moments of beauty and they handled the story with care. It has some big screen sensibilities and Marsh is obviously talented, however I wouldn’t recommend everyone go out and see it. It is quite a desolate experience and it lacks an engaging, or exciting edge to make it something to shout about. One thing I would say is that it has re-told a fascinating story to a new audience, and with great respect to the real people involved.
Is it worth the price of the cinema ticket?
Sure, but don’t expect to feel happy during it.