In April 1949, the British frigate HMS Amethyst was making her way upthe Yangtse to take supplies to the British consulate at Shanghai when she was illegally fired on by Mao's shore batteries. She sustained 50 hits, knocking out much of her electronics and power systems and 22 fatalities among her company, including her Captain, Lieutenant Commander Skinner. She had to be beached on mud flats and there she stayed under Communist guns for four months. Enter the Assistant Naval Attache in Shanghai, Lieutenant Commander Kerans (Richard Todd) to take over command. After four months of apparent deadlock when the Communist demand for allowing the ship to leave was the propaganda coup of a false admission that the Amethyst had fired first, it was decided to break out and sail downriver to rejoin the fleet.
This is the true story of that illegal imprisonment and escape. Indeed the American title when it was released over in the States was "Escape of the Amethyst". With such stellar names in the cast as Todd, William Hartnell (soon to find fame as the first Doctor Who) and Donald Houston, this 1957 re-enactment hits all the right buttons, but is typical of British war films from this period (Roughly contemporary with Reach for the Sky, Stalag 17 and The Dam Busters). It's all understated Britishness, of the genre that Todd did so well at that time (he also played the lead in The Dam Busters).
Interesting bit of trivia here, in the film the ship itself was played by .... well, HMS Amethyst, by then retired from Navy service and due to be scrapped although they could not, of course, use the Yangtse, they had to make do with the Orwell in Suffolk.
Altogether a worthy film, similar to many of the same period, but I'm happy to see it out for its first release on DVD. As stated in the headline, it's only taken half a century (52 years to be exact, 1957 - 2009)