The Mercy review: James Marsh directs Colin Firth as Donald Crowhurst in this true story of his solo attempt to circumnavigate the globe.
The Mercy review by Luke Ryan Baldock.
The Mercy has one irresistible premise, proven by the fact that this telling of the ‘expedition’ by Donald Crowhurst has attracted such talent to it. Not only that, but we’ll soon see the story explored again with the lower budget Crowhurst, also distributed by Studio Canal, released later in the year. There are documentaries, TV adaptations, and even a 1980s Russian film that used a tale to strongly critique capitalism. The Mercy is certainly the heavy hitter this year, with Colin Firth in the lead, and director James Marsh coming off the heavily lauded The Theory of Everything. There’s no surprise the story has garnered so much attention over the years, with it still being fiercely relevant today, while tackling themes of desperation, pride, mental health, glory, heroism, and media scrutiny.
Firth is Crowhurst, a man who believes he can take part in a spectacular boat race around the world. Crowhurst is really thinking of his status and pride, but as he gets caught up in the hype and sets off, he soon realises that surviving the race is going to be a challenge in and of itself, let alone completing it. The set-up has Firth at his English best. There’s a quiet confidence, but one that also reeks of desperation and uncertainty. Rachel Weisz, as his wife, has little to do once he sets sail, but when they are together you get a sense of loving family unity, and why one man would go to such lengths.
Once out at sea Marsh delights in the claustrophobic setting. Aboard a one man vessel, it soon becomes apparent that Crowhurst is way in over his head. Marsh’s delicate control gradually makes way for Crowhurst’s creeping insanity, detailed in his logs. Crowhurst tries to cheat the race, but not to win, just to finish, but his lies don’t echo true back home when his coordinates seem too good to be true. Firth also makes the most of his time alone, capturing the despair and frustration of Crowhurst, while highlighting the tragedy of his predicament. Firth utilises his face to convey the pain he feels from lying and cheating, while also dishing out lines from Crowhurst’s recovered journals.
Related: The Theory Of Everything review
That being said, the film certainly takes sides and almost elevates Crowhurst to heroic status. The messages that come in the film’s latter third are all delivered without much subtlety, with characters stating their guilt outright, rather than giving them inner conflicts for the actors to experiment with. David Thewlis does manage to rise above those surrounding him however, as Crowhurst’s enthusiastic PR man. Despite plenty of flashbacks to life on land, The Mercy is best when staying with Firth. It’s no surprise that the story is retold, as there are so many emotional and psychological layers happening at once, while leaving many to be assumed or theorised.
The Mercy may be too involved in championing Crowhurst rather than understanding his decisions and motivations, but what it does capture is the power and ferocity of both nature, the human mind, and social pressure. The three don’t always seamlessly mix, but it does make for a treacherous and uncomfortable journey. Hopefully StudioCanal saw something to consider the upcoming Crowhurst a companion piece, rather than a competitor.
The Mercy review by Luke Ryan Baldock, February 2018.
The Mercy is released in Uk cinemas on Friday 9th February 2018.