There’s bad ideas, and then there’s Donald Crowhurst, the jolly but misguided amateur sailor played in this true-life drama by Colin Firth. It’s a tale from another age: a ’60s family man and local entrepreneur decides to spice up his life by entering a race to navigate the globe in a shaky little vessel. When he bids farewell to his bemused wife (Rachel Weisz, in a frustratingly passive role), you know where the story is going: to the wild open seas and likely disaster.
Director James Marsh (‘Man on Wire’) has revelled in single-minded, flawed men before. Here, he digs into ideas of male pride, status and ‘doing the right thing’, while giving us a seafaring yarn that jolts from amusing to terrifying. The scenes with a desperate Firth alone at sea are nimbly done, with diary entries, radio calls and flashbacks livening up the solitude. Back home, early optimism clashes with the bitter reality.
Ultimately, Marsh is less interested in the mystery that still shrouds Crowhurst’s story and more concerned with why a man would risk everything for an unattainable sense of personal satisfaction. There’s something frighteningly English about the level of delusion at play here. It’s no heroic tale; ‘The Mercy’ is thoughtful, uncomfortable viewing.