THE MERCY is the Biopic of Donald Crowhurst’s Tragic Sailing Endeavour

COLIN FIRTH losing his mind out at sea alone in a biopic of Donald Crowhurst in the Sunday Times Golden Globe Race, I am in! I used to be sailing obsessed myself and have read all the books of the around the world races. I remember reading the story of Crowhurst years ago. Truly heartbreaking – and those around the world races are insane. A little easier these days with GPS, technology and better search and rescue facilities but my god – these guys were insane and heroic rolled into one. Kernel Jack managed to catch a screening of THE MERCY and reviews for us all now. Enjoy his analysis – THE MERCY sails onto screens tomorrow, Thursday 8th March in Australia, it is rated M and runs for 104mins……all the best…..JK.


If you don’t already know the true story behind THE MERCY, please, don’t look it up. I went into this film aware of quite literally nothing. Each month, the StudioCanal film schedule kept popping up with a picture of Colin Firth on a boat, followed by the title/release date, and that’s all I knew. It’s all I wanted to know. And it’s certainly all you’ll need to know as well. This entire plot can be summarised in fewer than two sentences. It’s the execution of said plot that makes the film entertaining.


Colin Firth as Donal Crowhurst in The Mercy
Colin Firth as Donald Crowhurst in The Mercy



We follow the story of Donald Crowhurst (Colin Firth), a father and husband with an admiration for the sea. While this love has been nothing more than a hobby for all his life, his family begins to struggle for money, and that’s when opportunity arises. In 1968, a call is sent out for sailors of all experience to sail the globe alone in a race for the fastest time. Donald sees his opportunity. If he does this, he’ll come back with fame and riches, able to provide for his wife Clare (Rachel Weisz) and their children. So, against all odds, Donald sails, yet it’s here he’s faced with monumental struggle, both internally and externally.


THE MERCY is a slow detrition of one man’s mind, brilliantly depicting Donald’s struggling sanity and the horror of isolation. When the film began, I feared it to be a generic tale of sporting triumph where the lonely hero overcomes all odds and successfully navigates the globe in a tale of success and heroism. Oh, how I was wrong. While set up that way, THE MERCY takes a number of bold and daring narrative choices that’ll leave your jaw ajar and your heart aching. This is bleaker, more hard-hitting and even realer than you’d anticipate.


Rachel Weisz as Clare Crowhurst with the Crowhurst Kids in The Mercy
Rachel Weisz as Clare Crowhurst with the Crowhurst Kids in The Mercy



It’s a story of the demons we face when alone and our aspirations to do something meaningful in this life, even if those aspirations are what will eventually drive us insane. Sadly, it takes a little while to get there. The first act of this film is kind of bad. It’s slow, choppy, very generic and has a number of puzzling editing choices. I could see what director James Marsh (THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING) and editors Jinx Godfrey and Joan Sobel were going for, but everything’s really poorly timed. The stylistic approach doesn’t match the clips used, and the intercutting of dialogue is more off-putting than it is impressive.

Screenwriter Scott Z. Burns (who, until this point, has only written films starring Matt Damon) makes an attempt at getting you to care about the Crowhurst family, and these attempts are successful, but what he doesn’t delve into is why Donald wants so very much to go out to sea. Money is a driving factor, no doubt, but it’s never the only factor. They establish other ways to get money. Even Donald’s wife Clare at one point tells him she wants him to do it so he doesn’t regret not doing it; there’s clearly a deeper force at play here, yet it isn’t explored enough.


Colin Firth as Donald Crowhurst in The Mercy
Colin Firth as Donald Crowhurst in The Mercy



However, once we do move out to sea, the film really picks up a notch. We evolve into the story Burns and Marsh always wanted to tell, and it’s an enjoyable, if not heavily flawed one at that. The visual style and overall direction is sub-par at best. Sure, the locations are fairly confined, and they’re not trying to glamorize the beauty to be found on this trip, but at least create something for the eyes to latch onto. Everything feels so bland, so ordinary and so drab.

What saves it, on the other hand, is its thematic resonance and wonderful performances. Firth manages to display a great deal of inner turmoil, dealing with a variety of moral dilemmas that are enough to make any man go insane. You don’t always feel the levity of each situation he’s forced to deal with, but you get enough of a sense to be able to roll along with it. THE MERCY takes a dark turn in its third act, almost becoming a psychological horror, but one that really benefits the narrative and spits in the face of “all men must prove their masculinity in order to really be a man.” It’s not going to be for everyone, but the direction it took certainly won me over.


Rachel Weisz as Clare Crowhurst in The Mercy
Rachel Weisz as Clare Crowhurst in The Mercy



THE MERCY is not going to be the be all and end all of cinema as we know it, but as it stands, the upcoming weeks of films are looking to be a bit of a sludge here in Australia, with all the interesting films not coming out until late March at the earliest. So, if you’re after something with a little more thematic interest than what mainstream cinemas are sure to be offering these next few weeks, I’d certainly recommend THE MERCY.





When he’s not spending an embarrassing amount of hours browsing through Netflix, Jack Dignan dedicates his time to reviewing movies of all genres and languages. He has done so since 2012. He also maintains a website of his own – – and ever since their interview, he’s been best friends with Quentin Tarantino. Tarantino just doesn’t know it yet. 

** Images used are courtesy of various sources on Google or direct from the distributor or publisher. Credit has been given to photographers where known – images will be removed on request.