The Mercy (2018)

  • Time: 101 min
  • Genre: Biography | Drama
  • Director: James Marsh
  • Cast: Colin Firth, Rachel Weisz, David Thewlis


The incredible story of Donald Crowhurst , an amateur sailor who competed in the 1968 Sunday Times Golden Globe Race in the hope of becoming the first person in history to single-handedly circumnavigate the globe without stopping. With an unfinished boat and his business and house on the line, Donald leaves his wife, Clare and their children behind, hesitantly embarking on an adventure on his boat the Teignmouth Electron. The story of Crowhurst’s dangerous solo voyage and the struggles he confronted on the epic journey while his family awaited his return is one of the most enduring mysteries of recent times.


  • “With shroud, and mast, and pennon fair”.
    Rating: 6/10.

    It’s 1968. Donald Crowhurst (Colin Firth, “Kingsman: The Golden Circle“; “Magic in the Moonlight“), an amateur sailor and entrepreneur based in Teignmouth, Devon, is inspired by listening to single-handed round-the-world yachtsman Sir Francis Chichester and does a a crazy thing. He puts his business, his family’s house and his own life on the line by entering the Sunday Times single-handed round-the-world yacht race. It’s not even as if he has a boat built yet!

    Lending him the money, under onerous terms, are local businessman Mr Best (Ken Stott, “The Hobbit“) and local newspaper editor Rodney Hallworth (David Thewlis, “Wonder Woman“, “The Theory of Everything“). With the race deadline upon him, Crowhurst is pressed into sailing away from his beloved wife Clare (Rachel Weisz, “Denial“, “The Lobster“) and young family in a trimaran that is well below par.

    But what happens next is so ludicrous that it makes a mockery of whoever wrote this ridiculous work of fiction. Ah… but wait a minute… it’s a true story!

    It is in fact such an astonishing story that this is a film that is easy to spoil in a review, a fact that seems to have passed many newspaper reviewers by (Arrrggghhh!!). So I will leave much comment to a “spoiler section” that follows the trailer (which is also best avoided). This is honestly a film worth seeing cold.

    What can I say that is spoiler-free then?

    Firth and Weisz make a well-matched couple, and the rest of the cast is peppered with well-known faces from British film and (particularly) TV: Andrew Buchan and Jonathan Bailey (from “Broadchurch”); Mark Gatiss (“Sherlock”, “Out Kind of Traitor“); Adrian Schiller (“Victoria”; “Beauty and the Beast“).

    The first part of the film is well executed and excellent value for older viewers. 60’s Devon is warm, bucolic and nostalgic. In fact, the film beautifully creates the late 60’s of my childhood, from the boxy hardwood furniture of the Crowhurst’s house to the Meccano set opened at Christmas time.

    Once afloat though, the film is less successful at getting its sea-legs. The story is riveting, but quite a number of the scenes raise more questions than they answer. As stress takes hold it is perhaps not surprising that there are a few fantastical flights of movie fancy. But some specific elements in Scott Burns’ script don’t quite gel: a brass clock overboard is a case in point. What? Why?

    And it seems to be light on the fallout from the race: there is a weighty scene in the trailer between Best and Hallworth that (unless I dozed off!) I don’t think appeared in the final cut, and I think was needed.

    All in all, I was left feeling mildly dissatisfied: a potentially good film by “Theory of Everything” director James Marsh that rather goes off the rails in the final stretch.

    This was a time where morality and honour were often rigidly adhered to – British “stiff upper lip” and all that – and seemed to carry a lot more weight than they do today. So some of the decisions in the film might mystify younger viewers. But for the packed older audience in my showing (Cineworld: this needs to be put on in a bigger screen!) then it was a gripping, stressful, but far from flawless watch.

    I’d also like to take this opportunity to pay my respects to the film’s composer Jóhann Jóhannsson, who shockingly died last week at the ridiculously young age of 48. His strange and atmospheric music for films including “The Theory of Everything“, “Sicario” and (particularly) “Arrival” set him on the path to be a film composing great of the future. Like James Horner, another awful and untimely loss to the film music industry.

    (For the graphical review please visit or One Mann’s Movies on Facebook).

  • What makes a man a hero? Is it conquering obstacles and being victorious? Or is it facing those same obstacles with the knowledge that failure is the only result? For those unfamiliar with Donald Crowhurst, the handsomely mounted biopic The Mercy will strike one as possibly a tale of triumph; for those familiar with the man’s deeds, the film is a tale of inevitable tragedy.

    “Men do not decide to become extraordinary,” Crowhurst shares in the film’s opening voiceover. “They decide to accomplish extraordinary things.” The words are both an aspiration and a warning for man’s ambitions often exceed their capabilities, which was certainly the case for Crowhurst. Embodied with typical melancholy dignity by Colin Firth, Crowhurst is initially presented as a man keen to do right by his wife Clare (Rachel Weisz) and their four young children. He’s an engineering entrepreneur doing his best to peddle his latest invention, an advanced directional finder named the Navicator, at sailing conventions but with very little success.

    When The Sunday Times announces the inaugural Golden Globe Race, an around-the-world yacht race that promises a huge cash prize and accompanying celebrity, he believes it to be the perfect opportunity to pay off his mounting debts, better provide for his family, and boost his business. Yet it’s clear from the jump that he has neither the boat nor the experience to undertake such a voyage. Though he nonchalantly reasons away all his wife’s concerns, he does wonder in a moment of serious reflection “What have I done all these years?” that would make his children proud of him.

    On the surface, the first half of The Mercy resembles an underdog story in the vein of Rocky or Rudy. Crowhurst himself is aware of the everyman image of himself that’s being cultivated by tabloid reporter-turned-publicist Rodney Hallworth (David Thewlis) to the public as well as to potential sponsors. The greater the troubles, the more the film seems to prime viewers for an inspirational win. One of the many remarkable things about the film is how, although the first half’s hopefulness contains an undertow of vibrating worry, it still doesn’t prepare for the second half’s stark and alarming situation in which Crowhurst has placed himself. To turn back would be to face humiliation and financial ruin, to press on in his unseaworthy vessel would result in a likely death. With the isolation of the sea further gnawing at his already troubled mental state, Crowhurst makes the even more foolhardy decision to craft an elaborate deception, falsifying log reports and pretending he was making terrific progress in his communications to his wife and Hallworth.

    James Marsh, who directed The Theory of Everything, eschews sentimentality for the most part, preferring to imbue Crowhurst’s story with a polite poeticism. The film is unabashedly tipped in Crowhurst’s favour, which may niggle at some viewers who wish for him to be in a less romanticised and sympathetic light.

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