Crowhurst is a true-life story of Donald Crowhurst, who entered a sailing race around the world sponsored by the Sunday Times. Under huge financial and personal pressure to succeed but quickly realising that he was losing, he apparently decided that he could never return because he faced bankruptcy and ruin. He reported false positions with the desperate hope that cheating might save him, allowing him to sail home to England without losing it all. But he quickly lost his grip on reality… the messages sent back to shore became increasingly strange, and eventually he was out of touch altogether. It all ends with a mystery.
This is one of two different films about him to arrive this year (the other is called The Mercy, a much larger production). Crowhurst lacks the famous cast of its competitor, and is directed by Simon Rumley. Rumley has been making quite a few interesting genre films over the last decade. This one owes a lot to Nicolas Roeg, who acted as an executive producer on the project. Roeg had been interested in doing a film on Crowhurst in the 1970s himself. It’s very much like the kind of film that Roeg would be making now, were he a young filmmaker—it has a strange story and it’s mixture of psychedelic freakout and ITV-level period drama.
It was made on maybe a tenth of Mercy, and made before it as well, shot in 2015. The actor who plays Crowhurst, Justin Salinger, is the focus of the piece. He turns in a well-acted character study of a man who is losing it. He’s also a closer physical match for the real Crowhurst than Colin Firth, who has the lead in Mercy. Reconstructed news reports, flashbacks, and a sort of fantasy sequence near the end are intercut with visual splashes. Extreme split screen, hallucinatory colour changes and Kubrickian speed-ups make it visually interesting as well as a good story.
There is also a whole metaphor there for Brexit, if you want to see it. One of the key lines in the film is “Can’t sail around the world without a bloody Union Jack!” and all the usual patriotic British anthems are heard. Crowhurst is the perfect embodiment of Brexit with the fact he is a mess out of his own deception and the boat itself is leaking. The film was made before the referendum but it’s hard not to see the parallel.
Rumley along with Ben Wheatley are carrying the baton for iconoclastic British filmmakers like Roeg, Terry Gilliam and Ken Russell by refusing to make either period or kitchen sink drama. Even without a big budget, he achieved pretty solid period detail, and some location work was done at Crowhurst’s actual home, adding authenticity.
The disc contains only the feature which is a real shame.