(Release Info London schedule; February 9th, 2018, Electric Cinema, 18:30)
This is the incredible true story of Donald Crowhurst (Colin Firth), 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 (Rachel Weisz) and their children James (Kit Connor) and Rachel (Eleanor Stagg) behind, hesitantly embarking on an adventure on his boat 'The Teignmouth Electron'. "The Mercy" is 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.
Not long after his departure, it becomes apparent to Donald that he's drastically unprepared. His initial progress is slow, so Donald begins to fabricate his route. His sudden acceleration doesn’t go unnoticed and he soon emerges as a serious contender in the competition. Donald’s business partner, Stanley Best (Ken Stott)), had reminded him that he could pull out at any time, however, the consequences to his family from such a decision are unthinkable; Donald has given himself no other choice but to carry on. During his months at sea, Donald encounters bad weather, faulty equipment, structural damage and, the most difficult obstacle of all, solitude. One by one, his fellow competitors drop out until it's only Donald left to challenge Robin Knox-Johnston (Mark Gattis), who's first to complete the round trip. As the pressure from what awaits him back home increases, Donald faces his toughest challenge, maintaining his sanity. When he receives word from his press officer, Rodney Hallworth (David Thewlis), of the recognition and celebrations awaiting him upon his return, Donald’s mind finally breaks.'The Teignmouth Electron' is found abandoned off the coast of 'The Dominican Republic'. Donald’s scrawled logs are inside, filled with ramblings of truth, knowledge and cosmic beings. Back home, his wife Clare is left without a husband, his children without a father.
Donald Crowhurst was born near Delhi in British colonial India in 1932 to John and Alice Crowhurst. At the age of eight he was sent to an Indian boarding school where he would spend nine months of the year. Two years later, his parents moved to 'Western Pakistan'. After 'The Second World War", aged fourteen, Donald was sent back to England to board at 'Loughborough College'. His parents returned to England in 1947 when India gained Independence from Britain and the Partition took place. His father ploughed all of his retirement savings into an ill-fated business deal in the new territory of Pakistan. The Crowhurst’s life in post-war England was a far cry from colonial life. The lack of funds forced Donald to leave 'Loughborough College' at the age of sixteen once he passed his 'School Certificate', and sadly his father died in March 1948. After starting as an apprentice in electronic engineering at 'The Royal Aircraft Establishment Technical College' in Farnborough, Donald went on to join 'The RAF' in 1953; he learned to fly and was commissioned. He enjoyed the life of a young officer and was described by many as charming, brave and a compulsive risk-taker who defied authority and possessed a madcap sense of humour.
After he was asked to leave 'The RAF', he promptly enlisted in the army, was commissioned and took a course in electronic control equipment. He resigned from the army in 1956 and went on to carry out research work at 'Reading University' aged twenty-four. Crowhurst is remembered as being quite dashing and he caught the attention of his future wife Clare at a party in Reading in 1957. Clare was from Ireland and had been in England for 3 years. Apparently he told her that she would marry an impossible man. He said he would never leave her side and took her out the very next evening. Theirs was a romantic, whirlwind courtship that took place over the spring and summer of 1957. They married on 5th October and their first son, James was born the following year. It was at this time that Crowhurst began sailing seriously. He secured a job with an electronics firm called Mullards but left after a year and aged twenty-six, he became 'Chief Design Engineer' with another electronics company in Bridgwater, Somerset. His real dream was to invent his own electronic devices and he would spend hours of his spare time tinkering with wires and transistors creating gadgets. He also found solace in sailing his small, blue, 20-foot boat, 'Pot Of Gold'.
Crowhurst designed 'The Navicator', a radio direction-finding device for yachting and set up his company 'Electron Utilisation' to manufacture and market the gadget. Donald and Clare’s family expanded with the arrival of Simon in 1960, Roger in 1961 and Rachel in 1962 and they lived happily in the Somerset countryside. When 'Electron Utilisation' hit financial difficulty, Crowhurst was introduced to Taunton businessman, Stanley Best, who agreed to back the company and Best eventually sponsored Crowhurst’s attempt to circumnavigate the world in the trimaran 'Teignmouth Electron'. With the Empire gone, in 1960s Britain there developed a phenomenon where men sought adventure, recognition and heroism. Sending men to the moon was something Britain couldn’t afford, so instead, heroes came in the form of people like Francis Chichester who was the first person to tackle a single-handed circumnavigation of the world, starting and finishing in England with one stop in Sydney. Upon his return in 1967, Chichester was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II and instantly became a national hero. Capitalising on this wave of interest in individual round the world voyages, 'The Sunday Times' sponsored 'The Golden Globe' race, a non-stop, single-handed round the world yacht race.
No qualifications were required for entrants but the rule was that they had to depart between 1st June and 31st October 1968 in order to pass through 'The Southern Ocean' in summer. The trophy would be awarded to the first person to complete the race unassisted via the old clipper route, of the great Capes; 'Good Hope', 'Leeuwin' and 'Horn'. The newspaper also offered a cash prize of £5000 for the fastest single-handed navigation. Nine sailors started the race, four retired before leaving 'The Atlantic Ocean'. Chay Blyth who had no previous sailing experience, retired after passing 'The Cape Of Good Hope'. Nigel Tetley was leading the race but sank with 1,100 nautical miles to go. Frenchman Bernard Moitessier rejected the commercial nature of the race, so abandoned it but continued sailing, completing the circumnavigation and carried on half way around the globe again. Donald Crowhurst’s 'Teignmouth Electron' was discovered mid-Atlantic, 1,800 miles from England at 7.50am on 10th July 1969 by 'The Royal Mail Vessel', Picardy that was en route from London to the Caribbean. On inspection, the trimaran was deserted and a subsequent 'US Air Force' search for Crowhurst followed to no avail. British sailor Robin Knox-Johnston was the only entrant to complete the race. He was awarded both prizes and subsequently donated his £5000 prize money to Clare Crowhurst and the Crowhurst children.
Donald, the head of the family is an amateur sailor, an inventor, a dreamer and a fantasist, so when he sees a competition in 'The Sunday Times' offering £5000 to the first man who circumnavigates the earth single-handedly, without stopping, he dreams that he could do this. Chichester had sailed around the world recently, stopping once and he was knighted upon his return and became a hero. It’s a story about how boys and men become fixated with becoming heroes. Donald has a lot of madcap ideas which often didn’t get carried out, so at first when Clare hears he’s going to enter this race, it’s such a preposterous idea to her, because he’s not a professional sailor, he’s just pottered around. She believes he would actually do it. Slowly but surely it dawns on her that he’s getting closer and closer to actually going and there’s a moment where she asks him, are you really going to go, and he says yes. The question is, could Clare Crowhurst have stopped her husband from embarking on this risky challenge? Perhaps he would have been stoppable, but from my viewpoint, it’s a portrait of a marriage and a relationship and what would have happened had she stopped him from going? Would he ever have forgiven her? In a relationship, can you stop the other from living out their dreams?
In this case, it turns out to be tragic decision. In the moment, she didn’t feel like she has the right to. She's in an impossible situation. It sort of becomes two films, the one at sea, where Clare and the children are not there, and then there’s the family home, waiting for news of her husband and their father who's becoming a national hero whilst he’s at sea. Clare has to deal with the press, with long periods of silence and Christmas and birthdays without him. She also has to deal with having no money to buy food or heat the house without him because Clare depended on Donald for money. Clare is a very progressive thinker. Most people would be aghast at the prospect of their husband setting off on this kind of adventure, but Clare understood how fundamental it's to his being and that casts a really interesting light on their relationship. What makes it so romantic is the fact that they’re separated because that’s what old school romantic with a capital ‘R’ means, something that’s unattainable, unfulfilled and broken. That’s why it’s tragic because they're yearning for each other while they're separated. At that time in history, men were leaving their homes and crossing new frontiers, be it in outer space or circumnavigating the world.
Rodney Hallworth is a larger than life character, a former crime reporter for 'Fhe Daily Mail', he ended up living in Teignmouth running a local news agency and acting as PR for 'Teignmouth Council'. He offers himself up as Donald Crowhurst’s press agent. The story takes quite a dark twist with Hallworth. With the role he plays in embellishing what’s going on. He’s not complicit with what Crowhurst is doing, he actually believes he’s going round the world but, he’s not receiving enough information from Crowhurst so he starts to get a little creative and exaggerates the speeds and the whereabouts of Crowhurst on the map. This doesn’t help the world understand the real story, it doesn’t help Crowhurst’s family and it doesn’t help Crowhurst because Hallworth is reporting it as a certainty that Crowhurst has rounded the tip of Africa. Crowhurst hadn’t and therefore this made it increasingly difficult for him to give up and turn back. Hallworth is the man who pushed Crowhurst when the boat wasn’t ready to go and he's the man who says, you’ve got to go, there’s too much to lose.
Crowhurst cites Hallworth many times in his log as being the main person he would be letting down, as well as Stanley Best who was his sponsor. He feels that his wife Clare would be more understanding but Hallworth wouldn’t. Hallworth also exhibited dubious, Machiavellian traits, not least when he went aboard the 'Teignmouth Electron' in 'The Dominican Republic'. He entered the cabin and found the logs and discovered the truth. He discovered the rambling, the diaries and the insanity and a very high likelihood of suicide so he ripped out the final two pages of the log, then negotiated the sale of the logs to 'The Times Newspaper', without Clare Crowhurst’s permission. Whoever he's, that's not cool. We can forgive him for some of his part in the story, but not for what he did at the end. Hallworth isn't completely the villain of the piece. Everyone has their reasons for doing what they do and he exaggerates Don’s story as it’s being conveyed to him from the boat. He embellishes it and adds to the lie. He feels cheated and as a tabloid crime reporter, he feels he’s been had. So, his anger and indignation are personal but also professional. We can see where he's coming from at the end.
Stanley Best is a shrewd, successful businessman who’d makes his money as a caravan dealer in the coastal town of Teignmouth, Devon. He's a very ordinary man of no distinction who grabs the opportunity to be part of something quite splendid. The relationship with Donald Crowhurst is friendly. Stanley likes him very much. It seems that Crowhurst is the kind of man anybody could like because he's charismatic. Stanley didn’t do anything just for the hell of it. He isn't a big risk taker. He likes things to be neatly sewn up. That contributed greatly to what could be considered a modern Greek tragedy in it's immensity. It would have been acceptable for Crowhurst to come home but Stanley Best put that pressure on him. Best blames himself in many ways but the family reassured him, that they didn’t hold him in any way responsible. The irony is the tragedy.
Donald Crowhurst's story is an extraordinary and haunting tale of a man going to sea and the family he leaves behind. The film celebrates the beauty of being a dreamer, the beauty of thinking big, wanting great things and following one’s passion and one’s heart towards doing something incredible. Crowhurst’s is a real story, a true story, but it’s definitely a mythical story of the sea and it sort of seeped into the culture as an example of British amateur sailor over-reaching. The idea of hubris-nemesis is built into the story. It’s an absolutely fascinating and compelling narrative. A man has an ambition and ambition doesn’t end up ennobling him, it ends up corrupting him, and tragedy then ensues. It has a very interesting perspective on the unravelling of a human mind. It just gives you a sure foundation if people make these choices and you’ve to understand their story in a dramatic context. They’re real choices and you have to reckon with those and there’s something more persuasive about that than some fictional stories. There are always turning points that you look for in a true story as it gives you a larger insight into the human psychology and you can be constantly surprised by the choices people make. In our era, a true story seems to be one that people increasingly respond to.
The film carries out painstaking research and delved deep into the heart and soul of what made Donald Crowhurst tick. Crowhurst has a series of failures, if you like, and he escaped the failure by rolling the dice bigger on the next adventure. He was a man of enormous energy and charm and that energy and charm led him into decisions like the ones he made in joining the race, for example. He had enormous self-belief as well, and people around him substantiated that. He managed to fund and build that boat, so there’s a danger of overlooking what he achieved in this story as well as what he didn’t achieve. He achieved enormous amounts. He was a fairly inexperienced sailor but he wasn’t as inexperienced as some people think he was. He hadn’t sailed the ocean properly, yet he built this very fast trimaran, but the boat wasn’t fully tested and finished. He made a pretty good go at sailing round the world; he stayed out in the ocean for the best part of seven months so all in all, he achieved much more than people ever thought he could, he just didn’t achieve what his objective was. It was a case of over-reach, it was hubris and that's what caused the tragedy of his demise.
There are quite a few books out there and great raw materials that he left behind, his logbooks, his diaries and letters he wrote to his wife. He sings on the tapes, mostly sea shanties and he speculates about the state of the world, about politics, about his own life. It’s extraordinary really, some of that's a persona but some of it also is the truth. That’s the great joy of this kind of film, you get a chance to research and the more you know the more you want to know. The public persona Donald Crowhurst created through his tape recordings and the way he talks to his family and people on dry land were, increasingly divorced from what he was feeling and experiencing. In the film, he becomes primitive essentially. He’s stripped of civilisation and becomes much more elemental and that’s shown in his physicality, he loses weight, doesn’t wear as many clothes and starts to look like a vagabond on the boat. The mental journey is much more interesting than the physicality and the film brings that to the character.
The sea is like a desert. It’s also mercurial, it has moods, it changes, and it threatens you. But, all you’re seeing is a horizon and a sky. The sea changes colour, it can be stormy and it has this sort of personality that can destroy you. The isolation is a huge part of what goes wrong in Crowhurst’s mind. Your brain chemistry changes when you don’t speak to people. When a real-life character is portrayed on screen, there comes a certain responsibility to the memory of the person and to the feelings of loved ones. "The Mercy" is a version of a story that we think has some truth to it. There’s no definitive version apart from the reality of what actually happened. You capture and distil it somehow into a dramatic form or a documentary form. There's a duty to respect that character and to be sympathetic.
There’s a kind of Donald Crowhurst in all of us, we all dream of some kind of glory. In the culture we live in now, we’re encouraged to reach beyond our lot or our station. Crowhurst could have made it and it would be a very different story. It’s about somebody who is a dreamer and he gets caught up in a kind of white lie. Everybody exaggerates a little bit now and then to suit his or her story but obviously, this is a very extreme version of it, therefore it makes good drama. Donald Crowhurst is immensely human and relatable. He’s not a strange, un-understandable being. He’s very understandable. The essence of the film is celebrating him as a kind of romantic hero.