James Marsh’s The Mercy offers strong performances and decent storytelling. The only real fault is that the film eschews the most fascinating aspect of the story.
When he hears about the 1968 Sunday Times Golden Globe Race, Donald Crowhurst decides to take part. The only problem is that he lacks the experience and vehicle to do so, being an amateur sailor. Putting his business and house on the line, Donald sets sail…
The story of Donald Crowhurst taps into the David and Goliath trope with an amateur sailor wishing to beat the odds in a round the world race. The Mercy functions on two main levels; Crowhurst’s ambition and his journey, and the story of those left on shore. James Marsh directs the focus on protagonist. It is a story of trials, mostly of the main character but also of his wife. The film takes artistic licence with Donald’s time at sea, focusing on the isolation felt by the protagonist at being alone for so long.
For all it’s earnestness, The Mercy does not pack that much of an emotional punch. Viewers will no doubt sympathise with Clare and to a certain extent protagonist. Marsh wisely shows flaws of protagonist; this makes the character more convincing. Yet it may not help viewers to fully engage with him.
For those who do not know about the race and Crowhurst, the story takes an interesting turn. In the second half of the film, there is a shift in mood as necessitated by the narrative. Marsh aims for a level of tragedy which the film does not quite reach. Whilst some reasoning behind Donald’s decision-making is revealed, there is not as much focus on the trickery of the protagonist. And this is the most interesting element of the true-life story.
Colin Firth delivers a great performance as Donald Crowhurst. He is supported by Rachel Weisz very ably, albeit in a bit of a thankless role. David Thewlis is also good. The Mercy‘s various parts are admirable. Yet overall, the film does not quite hit the spot.