“The Mercy”: how Hard it is to Show the Inner Turmoil of a Man

The fabled tale of the infamous Donald Crowhurst is given the optimistic and subtle touch by Colin Firth – but when it comes the the big finale, it lets itself down

Crowhurst’s story and the mystery surrounding his disappearance form now the basis of new film The Mercy. 

The story

Of the nine men who entered the 1968 Sunday Times Golden Globe race, Donald Crowhurst was undoubtedly the least likely.

Born in India in 1932, Crowhurst had an exotic childhood and as a young man enlisted in both the Royal Air Force and the Army. By 1968 he was married with young children and running a small electronics business in Bridgwater (UK). He enjoyed sailing but was only an amateur.

On 31 October 1968 – 50 years ago this autumn – he waved goodbye to his family and assorted well-wishers and, dressed in a shirt and tie, set off from Devon aboard his trimaran, the Teignmouth Electron. He never returned.

In 2006, the documentary Deep Water explored the tragedy. Crowhurst’s story and the mystery surrounding his disappearance form now the basis of new film The Mercy. 

The familial overtones

The Mercy is a full-scale adaptation with big stars: Colin Firth as Crowhurst, Rachel Weisz as his wife Clare. For starters, we get Firth’s best, most intent performance of the past several years. Colin Firth plays Crowhurst with a comic edge in the early stretches, but becomes a more human, tragic figure as he voyages into his own personal heart of darkness.

the mercy

“The Mercy” touches the viewer with Colin Firth’s performance. The familial overtones of the film are nice – but it almost seems like they missed the obvious story by trying to put a new spin on it. We want to see the drama of one man at sea, torn and horrified…but it takes a great actor to carry an audience alone for any period of time… and Colin Firth is just so…nice.

No matter which way you spin it – Colin Firth is a likeable guy. While his portrayal of the renowned British liar flourishes in his family scenes; it looses something when it gets down to the nitty-gritty of the sailor’s descent into madness and eventual suicide.

the mercy

As a plot, it focuses on the lighter tones of the story, and paints Crowhurst as a good natured fellow whose ingenuity and misplaced faith in his inventions ultimately became his undoing.

The ending focused heavily on his family, and much less on what actually happened to Crowhurst. In spite of the missed potential, “The Mercy” is a solid watch that made a fairly good attempt, and Firth does well opposite his lead female Rachel Weisz; the perfectly believable mother of his children.

The problems “The Mercy” encountered were all to do with the last section, and how hard it is to show the inner turmoil of a man driven to madness by endless waves and his own lies.

To show the inner angst and misery Crowhurst must have felt when he was out there requires more allocation of film time, a bigger impact on the audience and possibly an actor able to go to darker places.

That being said, it is very good to see him in a roll outside his comfort zone… one just cannot help but feel that a method actor would have wrung it dry and would have had us on the edge of our seats.

With a solid story and a good cast, “The Mercy” only just missed the mark for us. We gave it a 3 out of 5 stars.

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