'Crowhurst': Review

By Newman, Kim | Screen International, November 20, 2017 | Go to article overview

'Crowhurst': Review


Newman, Kim, Screen International


Simon Rumley unnervingly details the mental collapse of yachtsman Donald Crowhurst in the first of two current films on the subject

Dir Simon Rumley. UK. 2017. 99 mins.

In 1969, while competing in a Sunday Times competition to be the first yachtsman to circumnavigate the globe single-handed without a landfall, ‘weekend sailor’ Donald Crowhurst disappeared. From logbooks left behind on his catamaran the Teignmouth Electron, it became apparent that he had been transmitting false positions while dawdling off the coast of Argentina, and suffered a psychotic breakdown brought on as much by isolation as the stress of attempting a massive confidence trick.

Justin Salinger is an intensely credible, unnerving Crowhurst

The news item, which capped a 1960s craze for yachting feats, has proved attractive material for many writers and filmmakers - it even partially inspired the Mars landing hoax element of Capricorn One. Simon Rumley’s stripped-down, intensely focused Crowhurst arrives almost simultaneously with James Marsh’s The Mercy, a bigger-budgeted, starrily cast version of the same story. Throughout Crowhurst, the protagonist frets about his underdog status even as more qualified, better-resourced sailors fall out of the race, and there’s a sense this little movie gets some of its bite from the fear that it’s about to be overtaken or capsized by the wash of a more lavishly-funded vessel.

Rumley opens with the moment that paradoxically precipitates the protagonist’s descent into madness. Crowhurst (Justin Salinger) learns over the radio that all the other contestants have fallen out of the race - the clear leader has opted not to pick up the prize and disqualified himself by staying at sea - and that he has won. The problem is that he resorted to deception on the assumption he would be able to sail home a gallant loser - and not forfeit his home, under the terms of a bad deal with a shrewd sponsor. He presumed he wouldn’t need to offer his bodged log books for scrutiny because ‘nobody ever cheats to come last’.

Then, in a brisk establishing flashback, Crowhurst’s situation is sketched. An inventor whose innovation (ironically, a navigation system) hasn’t yet turned a profit, he’s struggling to stay above financial water and is acutely conscious of a need to be worthy of his devoted wife Clare (Amy Loughton) and four well-spoken children. He hits on the race as a way of publicising his gadget, and gets backing from the coast town of Teignmouth for his hard-to-capsize (but not entirely seaworthy) catamaran, though this means starting his voyage a hundred and fifty miles the wrong way. …

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