Perhaps it is because we are an island race, or have a history of seafaring trade, that we have long been fascinated by tales of the sea. Pirates, Buccaneers, and brave sailors of the World’s Navies, have all featured in literature, films, and TV programmes. I cannot swim, and get seasick going across The Channel, but I love films set on the seven seas. And here a few, for you to consider.
A Night to Remember. Long before James Cameron’s fictional account of the sinking of the RMS Titanic in 1997, other films had tried to portray this maritime disaster. Prior to Cameron’s woeful effort, there had been at least ten films made about it, the first one less than one month after the actual sinking, in 1912. This British film, from 1958, is by far the best, and outshines all before, or after. Kenneth More takes the lead, as the ship’s second officer. Sets and cast both have a good period feel, without the need for flamboyant and unconvincing special effects, and CGI. Furthermore, the acting is of a much higher standard than that displayed by the likes of Leonardo de Caprio. All the well-known main events of the sinking are brilliantly portrayed. The increasing sense of dread, as the hold fills with water, the band playing as the passengers abandon ship, and loose furniture items sliding across gradually sloping floors. The atmosphere is one of courage and dignity, interspersed by some well-documented moments of panic, and occasional cowardice. The scenes in the water, as those lucky to get into boats try to help, or avoid others, may be familiar, but this time they are played so much better. This feels real, devoid of padding, and absent the unnecessary what-ifs that plague so much of the competition. The film leaves a legacy for those lost, and those who survived, with respect, and without sensationalism. It is to be commended. This is the scene where the ship is sinking.
Dead Calm. You have to cast back to 1989, long before many similar films, albeit in different situations, either emulated or downright copied the plot of this superb thriller from Australian film-maker, Phillip Noyce. Starring Aussie stalwart Sam Neill, and Nicole Kidman before she became a Hollywood star, it also features the then little-known American actor, Billy Zane. There is a larger cast, but the film is essentially a three-hander, and uses the claustrophobic confines of a small yacht, to great effect. The Aussie actors play a couple whose relationship has been damaged by the loss of a child. They go on a sailing holiday to recover, and things go well at first. Not long into their trip, they encounter a larger vessel, which seems to be adrift with no crew, so they go to investigate. They find one survivor, (Zane) and take him aboard their yacht to help him. What follows, is a series of disturbing and violent events, that almost destroy the pair. As usual, with no plot spoilers, I will go no further. Billy Zane gives an excellent performance as the deranged but attractive villain, and Nicole Kidman proves why she became noticed by those that matter. Nail-biting stuff. Here is a scene, with Nicole Kidman under pressure.
Das Boot. This was originally a German TV mini-series, although you could never tell, apart from its running time, which in the full uncut version, is four and a half hours. It came to cinemas in 1981, in various versions, all much shorter, and some dubbed. Under no circumstances watch these inferior offerings. Only watch it uncut, with subtitles, or don’t bother at all. Forget every other submarine film you have ever seen; it doesn’t matter how good they are, they are nothing compared to this epic. They re-wrote the genre with this one, believe me, you will be staggered by how good it is. Never before have we had the time, and hence the opportunity, to explore characters in such depth, or to be shown the everyday life of the wartime submariner in such minute detail. It answers any and every question about life in a submarine that might ever have entered your head. You will experience real feelings for the crew, (despite the fact that they are Germans, sinking allied ships) and the viewer will actually feel themselves rooting for the creaking boat, willing it to get through its dangerous missions. There is a smattering of sudden, authentic action sequences, but they play second fiddle to the sense of imprisonment under water, and the marvellously accurate portrayal of the life and times of those men, by all of the simply wonderful cast. Legendary. The complete film is available to watch free on You Tube, but I could only find it dubbed, or in the original German, without subtitles. So, here is a scene with subtitles, that should give you some idea of how good it is.
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. There have been scores of films set aboard a Man-O-War during Napoleonic times, or shortly before. The famous ‘Hornblower’ series is well-known, as are the three films concerning the famous mutiny; ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’ (1935 and 1962), and ‘The Bounty’ (1984). This film was made by the Australian director, Peter Weir in 2003, and is by far the best yet. Starring Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany, it is based on a series of best-selling novels, and strives for authenticity, alongside a rollicking naval saga. The plot concerns the search for an elusive French warship, which the captain of British warship, HMS Surprise (Crowe) is determined to sink, or capture. In the quest for this ship, the Surprise travels around the world, stopping in South America, and the Galapagos Islands, before rounding the notorious Cape Horn, in a terrible storm. There are some battle scenes, and exciting they are, though it is the calmer moments that impress the most. Every detail of life aboard is painstakingly recreated, and the relationship between Crowe’s brave captain, and Bettany’s ship’s doctor, and budding naturalist, develops into a true bond as the voyage progresses. This will stir the schoolboy in every man watching, and even though it is now ten years old, it feels as fresh as ever. Here is one of the naval battles.
Mission of the Shark. This is a made for TV film, but was widely available to buy and rent. It deals with a real incident during World War II, the sinking of the American warship, Indianapolis. This ship was in the Pacific, to deliver the top secret atom bombs, that would later be used to attack Hiroshima, and Nagasaki. As it returned, it was sunk by the Japanese. The survivors, mostly drifting in open water, endured a terrible ordeal. With little drinking water, no hope of rescue, and strung out across the huge ocean, with only a few boats and life-jackets. They attract the attention of sharks, and soon, there are huge numbers of sharks, picking off the helpless men, as and when they wish. With some distressing scenes, and examples of great courage and endurance, it is chilling to think that this was an actual situation, from which many survived. Avid film watchers may recall the scene in ‘Jaws’ when Quint tells the spine tingling tale of this tragedy; this is the film of those events. Although it never really escapes its television roots, it is still very watchable, with many memorable scenes. There are solid performances too, from Stacey Keach, and Richard Thomas, among others. Here is the complete film; not in widescreen, unfortunately.
There you have five films with a nautical feel. Hopefully, they will not be that well known to you, and you may be intrigued enough to seek some out.