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Review: Colin Firth helms real life yacht tragedy The Mercy

PUBLISHED: 17:12 09 February 2018 | UPDATED: 17:18 09 February 2018

Colin Firth as Donald Crowhurst in The Mercy. Photo: StudioCanal/Dean Rogers

Colin Firth as Donald Crowhurst in The Mercy. Photo: StudioCanal/Dean Rogers

StudioCanal/Dean Rogers

Dramatisation of the fateful journey of self-discovery of amateur sailor Donald Crowhurst, who vanished in 1969 during a round the world yacht race, is touching thanks to Colin Firth’s understated nobility as the all at sea as a fearless fool.

Colin Firth as Donald Crowhurst in The Mercy. Photo: StudioCanal/Dean Rogers Colin Firth as Donald Crowhurst in The Mercy. Photo: StudioCanal/Dean Rogers

The Mercy (12A)

****

During this telling of the story of amateur sailor Donald Crowhurst’s ill-conceived attempt to compete in the 1968 Sunday Times Single Handed Round The World Yacht Race, I was constantly reminded of a line from Life Of Brian: “You silly sods,” spoken by Brian on the event of his crucifixion having just seen Judean People’s Front Suicide squad kill themselves at his feet.

Crowhurst (Colin Firth) is an awfully British, terribly noble, but incredibly silly sod. He has everything a man might reasonably hope for: a big house, a decent career, a brood of well adjusted Enid Blyton-esque children and is married to wife Clare (Rachel Weisz)

What more could a man reasonably want? Nothing. Except glory, adventure against improbable odds and a demonstration of his very British gutsiness.

Kit Connor, Rachel Weisz as Clare Crowhurst and Finn Elliot in The Mercy. Photo: StudioCanal/Dean Rogers Kit Connor, Rachel Weisz as Clare Crowhurst and Finn Elliot in The Mercy. Photo: StudioCanal/Dean Rogers

He and his sons Roger (Kit Connor) and James (Finn Elliot) at a boat show to sell their invention: a nautical navigation device. Inspired by hearing a rousing speech from pioneering sailor Sir Francis Chichester (Simon McBurney) about sailing around the world single-handed, he decides to enter the race in a boat built to his designs, as a way to showcase various gadgets invented by him.

His tragedy is that of a man whose foolishness surpasses his foolhardiness. He isn’t backed into a corner, he hurtles himself into it, employing a press agent (David Thewlis, who after his performance in the last season of Fargo seems to have really cornered the market as the embodiment of evil) to garner a number of sponsorships.

Having signed away his house to secure investment from local businessman Stanley Best (Ken Stott), Donald begins construction of a revolutionary triple-hulled yacht christened the Teignmouth Electron.

And he has no honourable way to back out when he realises that his boat will not be ready in time for the October 31 deadline for contestants to be at sea.

Then finally at sea his updates via radio catch the public imagination.Unfortunately, his heroics are a web of lies.

Colin Firth as Donald Crowhurst in The Mercy. Photo: StudioCanal/Dean Rogers Colin Firth as Donald Crowhurst in The Mercy. Photo: StudioCanal/Dean Rogers

His boat is finally was discovered in the Atlantic without any sign of its captain.

Colin Firth on Donald Crowhurst, the sailor lost at sea in a boat made in Norfolk

The Mercy has proved pretty divisive with audiences: heaps of viewers find it dull and boring and have no empathy with Crowhurst. These people are apt to compare it negatively with a Robert Redford film from a few years back, All Is Lost, which covered similar ground.

That was a starker, more brutal look at solo survival at sea, and James Marsh’s film doesn’t have its technical expertise.

This, for me, is more touching though, thanks to Firth’s understated nobility and the realisation that our nation’s famed, celebrated tradition of fearless, eccentric, against-the-odds heroism is built on the ranks of forgotten uncelebrated, fearless, eccentric, against-the-odds failures and their stiff upper lip martyrdoms.

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