Here’s an unusual situation: ‘Crowhurst’ is the second film in as many months about Donald Crowhurst’s 1968 attempt to sail solo and non-stop around the world. The first release was ‘The Mercy’, directed by James Marsh and starring Colin Firth and Rachel Weisz. It was touted as an Oscar contender, and Firth probably should have picked up a nod. This second film is being snuck out with far less of a publicity push, starring less well-known Justin Salinger as the unlikely yachtsman and with Simon Rumley – best known for horror – at the helm. Like Crowhurst himself, this is decidedly the underdog, but while it has its problems, this journey is not quite so disaster-prone.
The two films’ narratives are almost identical. Donald Crowhurst (Salinger) is an average family man, except that he has poured his savings into the invention of a navigation aid for sailors that’s not selling. Instead of getting a safe, steady job as his wife recommends, Donald decides to push for glory by entering an around-the-world race, designing his own boat and procuring local sponsorship to fund the voyage. The problem is that neither boat nor sailor is up to the task, and Crowhurst soon begins to fictionalise his reports home, leaving himself more and more isolated as he sails further and further from reality.
Rumley uses every trick in the book to give drama to the story of one man on a boat, cross-cutting between Crowhurst and the folks back home through split-screens, radio chatter and weird imagined moments of shared song. His horror background seeps through in the unsettling use of close-ups and an unnerving score, particularly as his hero’s mental state deteriorates. Not all of those gimmicks are entirely effective, and as the sailor’s journey comes to an end the film gets a little too loud and emphatic to fit the story. Even aside from the question of budget and star names, this is a marginally less compelling take on Crowhurst’s ill-fated voyage, but the story of this desperate man still has power.