Rewarding.and a wonderful homage to the WW2 Royal Navy Escort Service
from Wirral, Merseyside
, 31 Mar 2012
Possibly the best film of naval warfare set in World War 2.
Heck, it's possibly the best war film about World War 2! It is a film that gets under your skin not because of a famous name being at the head of the credits but due to all concerned making it 'real'.
Based on an outstanding novel (well worth reading) by Nicholas Monsarrat, who relied heavily on his own experiences, the screenplay was by Eric Ambler, no mean author himself, who extracted, then honed, planed and polished the essentials of the novel giving the production team and actors a script that couldn't fail. (The book gives deeper background detail on the characters.)
The use of black and white film stock throughout allowed the mostly seamless insertion of combat film with an extremely fine touch. Even the occasional 'model' shots don't jar the senses like they tend to do in other war films. This film was released in the 1950's so 'propaganda' was not a motive in making it.
The perfidy of the Atlantic is shown at its most raw moods, touching everyone abroad on its waters regardless of race or ideology. Corvettes like the 'Compass Rose' were, for the most part, inherently unstable ships at the best of times
pitting them against the Atlantic gales, swells, mountainous waves, snow and ice with mostly 'hostilities-only' seamen was a test that few failed
and in the early years of the u-boat war, they were sacrificial targets as they tried to protect life-blood convoys carrying the men and matériel to and from Britain to Canada, the United States, the Mediterranean, South America, Russia and the Far East. The courage and determination of these seamen should never be forgotten.
The dramatic aspects are brilliantly realised due in no small part to the actors and actresses who appear in the film. In lesser roles and cameos, the likes of Fred Griffiths, Liam Redmond, Alec McCowen, Virginia McKenna, Bruce Seton, Walter Fitzgerald, Meredith Edwards, Megs Jenkins, Stanley Baker, Moira Lister and Sam Kydd put in such good performances that it seems almost churlish to name any of the actors in the film as they all made outstanding contributions to the 'feel' of it. Sam Kydd even does a couple of post-production short lip-syncs for a couple of other actors.
However, Jack Hawkins must get a special mention as he expresses the pride, commitment, conscience, shame, determination and strength of character that WAS Captain Ericson. I often wonder how many 'name' actors of that film period would have allowed themselves to shed tears on screen and let the 'stiff-upper lip' slide away to show a man whose heart has been ripped from his chest and yet who knows that regardless of what has happened, he has to go on.
Two other names I do want to mention are firstly Donald Sinden, as Lockhart, the No. 1, who Ericson comes to regard as his 'rock' but wouldn't express it as so, and who gives a finely judged performance of someone mature but not cocky, learning the ropes under a commanding officer who is both patient and critical when necessary.
The other is John Stratton whose character of Ferraby is both carefully etched and compassionately extracted to show a personality who, although plucked from his home and his new wife and lacking in maturity, and feeling somewhat out of his depth, is determined to do what hundreds of thousands of volunteers & conscripts did at that time of Britain's greatest need.....their best. Unfortunately Ferraby, who like many others, had only so much nervous courage, and who, under the constant strain of the convoy losses and the not knowing when a torpedo would rip into the ship, finally cracked when the 'Compass Rose' was torpedoed and sunk. If he hadn't been serving with Ericson and Lockhart he probably would've have cracked-up sooner.
But this film must be regarded as a whole. It is a dramatic, sensitive, thought-provoking, finely-written experience, expertly directed by Charles Frend (who also directed that fine homage to the Merchant Navy, 'San Demetrio, London' in 1943). There is an atmosphere to the movie that lifts it above so many others. Even the 'love-interest' becomes an essential part of the film and not just a tacky add-on as so often seems to be the case.
Most of those involved in the making of this film had served in the forces and brought their expertise and knowledge to the set.
A final mention must be made about the bleak, intrinsic and melancholy film score by Alan Rawsthorne which puts the final sheen on a film that repeated viewings does not diminish in any way.
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