Director: James Marsh
Screenplay: Scott Z. Burns
Starring: Colin Firth, Rachel Weisz, David Thewlis, Ken Stott
Runtime: 101 Minutes
The Mercy is the true story of the disastrous attempt by amateur sailor Donald Crowhurst to complete the 1968 Sunday Times Golden Globe Race, his attempts to cover up his failure while at sea and his disappearance. Oddly enough, it is the first film on the subject to be released this year, being preceded by Simon Rumley’s Crowhurst.
There have also been numerous other adaptations of the story to screen and even stage in the past, varying from French and Russian language features to television documentary’s and a remarkable feature documentary called Deep Water back in 2006 – and to date Deep Water seems to remain the best attempt yet to try and make sense of the emotions and heavily stricken mindset of the man lost at sea.
Although James Marsh has experience with biopic drama and adapting true stories through his documentary work and his prior effort The Theory of Everything, he and screenwriter Scott Z. Burns (also no stranger to heavily chronicled narrative drama) fail to fill the void of history that Crowhurst left behind.
Although the opening act moves swiftly with a forceful pace and editing job, once out at sea the drama sharply moves back and forth between the reports taken back on land by his family and the local news, and Crowhurst’s continuing struggles and eventual yielding to the dire nature of the situation he is facing. But the ways in which this manifest never convey that feeling of isolation, nor convincingly communicate the eternal struggle to stay afloat in both his craft and his own sanity.
Luckily, the cast are the outstanding element at play here. Colin Firth is excellent as Donald Crowhurst; an inexperienced dreamer and navigator who’s reach exceeded his grasp, and who placed his confidence in his unwavering ability above the needs of his wife and children back home under tragic yet remarkable circumstances. Rachel Weisz is commanding in a stock role as the wife back home, while David Thewlis is biting in his depiction of publicist Rodney Hallworth.
It doesn’t quite come together as a distinct unit or effort, but The Mercy mostly hangs together thanks to its cast and some gorgeous cinematography, even if it doesn’t manage to give such an uncommon story the same sense of execution.