In 1968, weekend yachtsman and inventor, Donald Crowhurst, attempts to complete the Sunday Times Golden Globe Race. An optimistic dreamer, lacking the experience and skill of his competitors, Crowhurst’s determination and self belief in the face of impossible odds soon piques the interest of the general public and media. However, what begins as an underdog story soon takes a darker, more tragic turn…
A film of two halves; The Mercy succeeds admirably in it’s set-up. With Donald Crowhurst we have the ‘plucky outsider’; a ‘David’ facing down Goliaths with nothing but a rock and a sling. He speaks in homilies and truisms, dismissing his wife’s gentle concerns about his sailing experience with a wry smile and an almost unshakeable belief that he will succeed.
Though we may have seen these tropes before, Director James Marsh soon flips the board on his head with Donald realises too late that he might not be up to the task. The film convincingly tightens the noose. With his house and business on the line, plus the threat of a very public humiliation looming should he fail he finds himself caught up in his own machinations; thrust out onto the high seas with dangerously little experience and ill prepared for the psychological toll that such a journey will take…
…And sadly this is where the film loses it’s footing.
Despite Colin Firth’s powerful depiction of a man coming apart at the seams he can’t overcome the fact that a lot of Donald’s struggle is internal. As failure looks all but certain, we see him send back false coordinates to the British Press, lying about his progress. A pivotal moment that doesn’t particularly land as there’s little indication as to how he came to that fateful decision.
Seemingly conscious of this, the script tries to offset the issue by splitting time between the high seas and Crowhurst’s family struggling in his absence. Rachel Weisz, in a thankless role as Clare Crowhurst, anchors the proceedings as best she can but she is give little to do but look solemnly out to sea.
Compared to Robert Redford’s spartan high seas survival thriller All is Lost, The Mercy struggles to convince, lacking the former films’ clarity and brevity. One can’t help but feel that the story of Donald Crowhurst would not be better served (and indeed has been) by a more conventional documentary that could dig into this mindset, in the way James Marsh did in his superlative Man on Wire.
There are definitely some choppy waters, but strong performances and a compelling first half stop this from being a total shipwreck.
The Mercy is screening at thescreen Stortford on Monday 23 April and Wednesday 25 April – book tickets now.