Devon LivingIssue #01
The call of the sea
We take a look at The Mercy, the story of amateur sailor Donald Crowhurst who took on the infamous 1968 Sunday Times Golden Globe Race.
New film The Mercy, released early this year, tells the true and ultimately tragic story of amateur weekend sailor and businessman Donald Crowhurst (Colin Firth) as he gambles everything to compete in the 1968 Sunday Times Golden Globe Race. In the hope of becoming the first person to single-handedly circumnavigate the globe without stopping, Donald leaves his wife Clare (Rachel Weisz) and their children behind to embark on his vessel named the Teignmouth Electron. The film gives a fascinating insight into the struggles Crowhurst grappled with – one of the most enigmatic tales of recent times.
“When his business, Electron Utilisation, runs into financial trouble, Crowhurst is introduced to Taunton businessman, Stanley Best…”
When his business, Electron Utilisation, runs into financial trouble, Crowhurst is introduced to Taunton businessman, Stanley Best, who agrees to back Donald’s company and eventually sponsors his attempt to sail around the globe, a process that involves having a trimaran specially made to Crowhurst’s own specification.
As Donald prepares for the race – overseeing the building of the Teignmouth Electron – many around him believe that he’ll ‘snap out of it’, that he’ll never actually go through with the race – after all, he’s just an amateur weekend sailor who finds occasional solace on his small 20-foot boat, Pot of Gold. In fact, Rachel Weisz, who plays Donald’s wife, says: “I think Donald had 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.” But as you become more immersed in the film, you start to realise that Donald Crowhurst isn’t going to let this one go, despite his obvious wavering as he approaches the journey’s beginning. When eventually he climbs aboard his vessel, Colin Firth’s portrayal really comes into its own, showing Crowhurst’s barely concealed dismay as he finds the Teignmouth Electron in a woefully unprepared state, attempting to keep a stiff upper lip for the sake of his on-looking family.
The film is beautiful to watch, with rolling shots of Teignmouth that show just how beautiful a location it is, one that’s typical of a town so close to the English Riviera. Sweeping aerials of Crowhurst’s vessel show it ploughing through the Atlantic, and there are times when you really believe he’s going to do it. But things soon start to go wrong as you watch the protagonist come to terms with the fact that he simply cannot complete the voyage; as you witness him slowly but surely show signs of mental illness, cemented when a scene depicts him having a conversation through an unplugged telephone.
There’s a frustrating sense of pride – that he must not let his family down – that comes out naturally from Colin Firth’s portrayal; and on the other end of the ordeal, Rachel Weisz’s depiction of Clare Crowhurst shows with great prowess how the real-life Clare managed to keep her head up, despite the obvious danger her husband was putting himself in.
You get the feeling that she understands why Donald is embarking on such a mission – that she wants to shake him and talk him out of it, but she won’t because she knows what it means to him. Indeed, Donald’s defining line, “I am going because I would have no peace if I stayed,” seems to resonate throughout the rest of the film.
The Mercy has really served to put Teignmouth back on the map, just as Crowhurst did himself as he spent several weeks in the town preparing for his departure, holding press conferences, making repairs to his boat and, eventually, climbing down the ladder to the harbour and being ferried to his awaiting vessel.
On the location, Colin Firth says: “The people [of Teignmouth] were really very lovely. We were made to feel extremely welcome. It’s not convenient to have a film crew in your town, but there was an awful lot of affection for Donald Crowhurst and for this story.”
DID YOU KNOW?
Robin Knox-Johnston was the only one of nine entrants to complete the Sunday Times Golden Globe Race. Bernard Moitessier, who rejected the philosophy behind a commercial competition, abandoned the race while in a position to win, instead continuing to sail for sailing’s sake. He eventually circled the globe one and a half times!
Directed by James March
Starring Colin Firth, Rachel Weisz, David Thewlis and Ken Stott
Produced by StudioCanal
"When his business, Electron Utilisation, runs into financial trouble, Crowhurst is introduced to Taunton businessman, Stanley Best..."