Review – A harrowing true story becomes cosy and British in ‘The Mercy’

Poster for 2018 drama film The Mercy

Genre: Drama
Certificate: 12
UK Release Date: 9th February 2018
Runtime: 102 minutes
Director: James Marsh
Writer: Scott Z Burns
Starring: Colin Firth, Rachel Weisz, David Thewlis, Ken Stott, Mark Gatiss, Simon McBurney, Kit Connor, Eleanor Stagg
Synopsis: A hobbyist sailor decides to build a boat in order to attempt an ambitious, solo journey around the world, despite being unprepared for the trip and inexperienced in long distance sailing.



The true story of British sailor Donald Crowhurst has spawned a number of films over the years, including the Nic Roeg-produced Crowhurst playing at festivals just last year. It’s a fascinating tale of human ambition and the possible pitfalls of pursuing that ambition, which seems tailor-made for the big screen. Step forward director James Marsh, who most recently made The Theory of Everything, who has filmed the story with Colin Firth as Crowhurst.

It’s a cosy, British take on the Crowhurst story. Tonally, it’s the equivalent of half a dozen plates of shortbread laid out on a picnic blanket with a pot of tea nearby. Given the tragic edge of the real events, Marsh makes a curious decision in presenting it as a gentle, formulaic movie. Fortunately, though, Oscar-winning leading man Colin Firth is engaging, believable and memorable with his performance as Crowhurst, who famously decided to take part in a 1968 race to circumnavigate the globe solo in a boat of his own design. Much of the movie’s second half focuses on him alone in the boat and he does a stellar job of conveying the protagonist’s unravelling mental state as just about everything goes wrong.

The casting across the board is impressive, with Rachel Weisz providing real depth to the rather under-written role of Clare Crowhurst and David Thewlis relishing the role of slimy reporter-turned-PR-guy Rodney Hallworth. The film returns to these characters frequently, even during that second half of the movie, and this often robs the momentum built by the elegantly staged scenes of Firth struggling out in the ocean.

Crowhurst’s tale is one of a man unravelling as a result of isolation, but it’s one that suffers from a similar sort of unravelling structure itself. The performances are able to build an impressive picture of Crowhurst and his family as he prepares to begin his voyage and Firth does a tremendous job of capturing the essence of a Brit with ambition in his head and idealism in his heart. Marsh fails to hit the emotional heights necessary, though, to land the final gut punch the narrative demands. As Firth unravels, the narrative also frays and diverges from its focus, leaving an unnecessary confusion behind and diminishing the impact of the climax.

The Mercy simply feels a little too nice to completely achieve its goals. It is, however, an enjoyable and involving drama powered by a selection of stunning performances. The film also benefits from the gorgeous work of DP Éric Gautier, who manages to convey both the beauty and the power of the open water. This is a movie where everyone involved is a safe pair of hands and, so, it is left as a rather conventional take on a story that should feel more remarkable on the big screen.



Pop or Poop?

Rating: Pop!

Colin Firth and Rachel Weisz are a believable couple separated by miles of ocean in The Mercy, which is an interesting and initially involving drama that loses its way when the demands of the plot increase. This is a compelling true story with a built-in emotional ending that director James Marsh slightly mishandles and thus fails to land that final hit.


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