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4.2 out of 5 stars51
4.2 out of 5 stars
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon 24 August 2011
It is the Napoleonic Wars, and Captain Crawford takes command of the HMS Defiant and sets off with his orders to Corsica. His second in command is Lt. Scott-Paget, a vindictive and bullying man who has moved thru the ranks on account of his connections. The two men don't see eye to eye from the off, which only compounds the many problems that are reaching boiling point aboard the ship. Mutiny is afoot and the French forces are closing in.

Lewis Gilbert may just be one of Britain's most undervalued versatile directors. Here's a man that has directed Educating Rita/The Admirable Crichton {comedy}, The Good Die Young {crime}, Cast a Dark Shadow {Noir}, Reach for the Sky {biography}, Alfie/Shirley Valentine {romance}, James Bond x 3 {multi genre} and sea faring adventures such as Sink the Bismarck! and this fine Napoleonic historical piece, H.M.S. Defiant.

Adapted from Frank Tilsley's novel Mutiny, this is a film built around a true story about what became known as the "Spithead" and "Nore" mutinies in 1797. Where sailors and press ganged inlander's were fed up with working conditions, rates of pay and the all round treatment from the officers in charge. Also into the mix is a fascinating battle of wills between the two leaders of the Defiant, both men, in the midst of their power struggle, are oblivious to the rumblings and plotting of the crew. I mean you would think that with the French warships possibly around the corner, that they would be unified in creating a rock solid front? That they don't gives the film an extra dimension. Thus when the battle sequences do come, and the turn of events perk the piece up, it has a two fold impact that makes all the waters lead to a terrific foggy bound climax.

The cast are notable names from a roll call of British performers. Alec Guinness as Captain Crawford plays it spot on. An honourable man adhering to his code of ethics, it's thru a plot strand involving his own son being on board that Crawford gets torturous and conflicted by his emotions. Who better than Guinness to layer such a role? Dirk Bogarde steps up to play weasel duties as Lieut. Scott-Padget, suitably handsome in uniform but playing the devils tricks, it begs the question on why Bogarde didn't in fact play more villains because here he is excellent at it. Leading the mutiny is the looming presence of Anthony Quayle, who along with Nigel Stock, leaves a favourable mark in the support cast.

Comparisons with other notable genre entries are inevitable, the likes of Mutiny On the Bounty, Captain Horatio Hornblower R.N. and the more modern offering that is Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. If you like any of those films then the chances are you are bound to get much from this British film. It lacks quality location work, and the sound mix needs some modern tweaking {at the time of writing there is a DVD release but I've not witnessed the transfer yet}. But this is a fine genre entry as it stirs the blood, tells a great multi stranded story and is acted quite superbly by the cast. 8/10
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
Anyone who likes iron men fighting in wooden ships against the French, with the roar of cannon and splinters flying everywhere, will enjoy the last half of Damn the Defiant!. Whether you enjoy the first half depends on how well you appreciate the almost psychopathic cruelty and condescension of First Lieutenant Scott-Padget (Dirk Bogarde).

It's 1797, Napoleon threatens Britain, and only the Royal Navy ensures Britain's freedom. Captain Crawford (Alec Guinness) takes command of H.M.S. Defiant, a single-gun-deck frigate. Also joining the ship is Scott-Padget, an officer with friends in high places, a talent for seamanship, and a taste for flogging. While Crawford is determined to keep an open mind about his first lieutenant, it becomes quickly apparent that Scott-Padget is an arrogant sadist who is fully capable of undermining Crawford's authority if that's what it takes to get his way. He doesn't hesitate to brutalize the captain's 12-year-old son, brought on board as a midshipman, in subtle ways that keep Crawford from intervening. Added to this seething mix is the crew itself, brutalized not just by Scott-Padget but by the terrible living conditions sailors of the Royal Navy had to endure. One crewman, Vizard (Anthony Quayle), is the leader in putting together what he thinks will be a non-violent petition for redress. Every officer, however, will consider it a mutiny.

The first half of the movie is two stories. There is the struggle between Crawford and Scott-Padget, with Scott-Padget eventually getting the upper-hand. And there is the story of the men on a wooden ship of war and what their lives are like as they're beaten and trained to be seamen, subsist on a diet of rotten meat and weevily hardtack, and can receive 50 lashes at the whim of a first lieutenant.

The second half, however, is a rouser of the old school. A vital message must be delivered to the fleet, Captain Crawford finally is able to assert himself and the French break out of a blockade determined to attack an unaware British squadron in the fog. Ship-to-ship battles are fought where the victor will be determined by which ship can get alongside the other and throw iron faster at near point-blank range. And the seamen of Defiant must decide if their loyalty to Britain will override their knowledge that, if they are accused of being mutineers, each man will most likely be hanged.

The movie's strong points, for me, are the production values, the recreation of how brutal ship-to-ship fighting was, the look at the lives of men at sea in a fighting ship, and the appeal to patriotism over self interest, which was handled effectively because it was treated matter-of-factly. The weak points, for me, centered on the two leads. Guinness as Captain Crawford seemed too sluggish in coming to grips with his first lieutenant. He needed in my view more fire. Guinness was an actor who excelled in ambiguous and thoughtful roles, but he had it in him to play men with iron and passion; just look at him as Major Jock Sinclair in Tunes of Glory. Dirk Bogarde, however, plays Scott-Padget without an ounce of any quality than condescending sadism. Scott-Padget may be a talented sea officer and a brave man, but every time he's on screen you know exactly how he will behave. For those who like the smaller roles, keep an eye out for Tom Bell, who plays a resentful, violent seaman. Nearly thirty years later he was DS Bill Otley...a man Jane Tennison quickly learned not to trust in Prime Suspect 1 but who surprised her in Prime Suspect 3.

The DVD picture looks just fine, with anamorphic wide-screen on one side and full screen on the other. There are three or four extras which aren't significant.
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on 25 July 2010
This apparently little known film and seldom seen film of a British Frigate during the Napoleonic Wars, is packed with action, as well as illustrating the problems of command and the intrigues of patronage by influential people. The presence of a 1st Lieutenant with strong masochistic and self opinionated tendencies does nothing to ease the tension and bitterness of the ship. The arrival of the Captains son as a Midshipman merely adds to the Captains problems. Add the inevitable mutiny, French fire ships and a Captain (Alec Guinness) whose integrity devotion to duty and decency rise above these trials and tribulations and you have one hell of good yarn .
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 27 November 2014
The perfect gift for all historical movie enthusiasts is THE ROMA VICTRIX WINE BEAKERCalix Imperium, Roma Victrix Pewter wine beaker
Damn the Defiant is built around a true incident, the "Spithead Mutiny" of the British Channel Fleet during the war with France in 1797. British sailors rose up in a mostly peaceful rebellion against the abominable conditions in which they were forced to serve. The movie, based on the novel "Mutiny" by Frank Tilsley, tells the story of the frigate Defiant, on a solitary mission deep into the French held Mediterrean Sea.

The crew, already involved in the planning for the fleet-wide mutiny, suffer under the lash of the ship's sadistic First Lieutenant (Dirk Bogarde), while the Captain (Alec Guinness) is incapacitated, first by the torture of his son and then by the loss of his arm in a battle with a French frigate. But the good triumph in the end, as is right. It is a surprisingly complex story with well developed characters, but it delivers plenty of action as well.

The battle scenes are well done, though the final action with a fire ship is too clearly model work. I highly recommend Damn the Defiant to any fan of naval adventure in the age of sail, as typified by Horatio Hornblower.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 6 September 2013
This is an interesting "oldie but goldie", aged 51 but still alive, kicking and very watchable. Below, more of my impressions, with some SPOILERS.

Although there were as many as twelve Royal Navy ships named HMS "Defiance", there never was one called HMS "Defiant" - the heavy British frigate pictured in this film is therefore fictitious. The story happens in 1797 and begins with Navy press gangs catching unsuspecting men in taverns and on streets of British port to impress them in service. Some end on board of the frigate HMS "Defiant", which is scheduled to sail to the Mediterranean under the orders of a new commanding officer, Captain Crawford (Alec Guiness). The new skipper is also taking on board a new young midshipman - his only son, Harvey. However, unknown to him, some sailors and Royal Marines serving on the "Defiant" are preparing a mutiny - a task greatly helped by the extreme unpopularity of HMS "Defiant" second-in-command, First-Lieutenant Scott-Padget (Dirk Bogarde), a genuine sadist with an oversized ego. All this covers the first minutes - and then HMS "Defiant" sails and the film begins for real.

This story is partly based on the real events - the largely followed Spithead and Nore mutinies, which indeed occurred in 1797. However, some of the events described in this film fit more with another, much more sinister mutiny - the one which occurred the same year on board of the frigate HMS "Hermione"... But what happens on the HMS "Defiant" is something different than all those real revolts. I will say no more about it.

This film is worth seeing mostly for the performance of two main actors. Sir Obi-wan Kenobi of course was unable of offering a bad performance - here he is great as a humane, but certainly not weak "master and commander". But it is the vilain who is the best character and the main attraction of this film. Sir Dirk Bogarde portrayed the First-Lieutenant Scott-Padget as a really REALLY heinous baddie: sadistic, cold, calculating, merciless, vicious - and also so well connected that he is in fact MORE powerful than his commanding officer... Also, the scenario avoids the mistake of overdoing the "baddie" and therefore Scott-Padget has also some qualities - he is very competent, well educated, perfectly organised and absolutely fearless in fight - but somehow it makes him even scarier.

The one thing that is a little bit weak is the ending. The last two-three minutes of this film disappointed me a little and for that reason I simply cannot give this movie five stars. But still, I liked it and I will keep the DVD for a possible another viewing. Enjoy!
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This DVD was purchased to form part of my Dirk Bogarde collection. `HMS Defiant' (or, to give it the correct non-American title, `Damn the Defiant') was Bogarde's first film after his controversial `Victim', after which he became briefly `persona non grata' on the British screen. Director Lewis Gilbert and fellow actor Alec Guinness apparently had to fight the studio to get Bogarde the role. (This was the only time he worked in a film with Guinness.)

It's Spithead in 1797 and there is talk of mutiny in the British fleet. Guinness sets sail for the Mediterranean as captain of HMS Defiant; Bogarde is his first lieutenant, a nasty, brutish character who hands out punishment with ease and indulges in mental torture. A battle of wills thus results on board the ship. This is very much a male movie; there is only one woman on the cast list.

There are a few errors in the writing (there's talk of `Napoleon' over-running Italy when he was `merely' General Bonaparte at that time) and in the production (candles in the captain's cabin but not a flicker on the walls), but otherwise the film has some well-written sharp dialogue. There are also some surprisingly good effects for a film of this time - I'm still not sure whether the boats seen on the water are real or models, especially the fire-ship at the end.

With solid British actors such as Maurice Denham, Nigel Stock, Tom Bell, Murray Melvin, Victor Maddern, and Bryan Pringle in supporting roles, the scenes are well-played. The direction is assured in the hands of Lewis Gilbert, and the editing is excellently done by Peter Hunt.

The extras on my DVD are meagre: an old poster and select filmographies for Gilbert, Guinness, and Bogarde.
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on 30 November 2012
Overall a good film. The absence of modern special effects does make it appear somewhat dated, but does not detract from the basic story.

The underlying plot is not as historically far-fetched as it seems; at the time of the "mutinies" at Spithead and the Nore in 1797 there were a number of related incidents elsewhere in the World (but so far as I know, not in the Mediterranean)

Technically, the film is reasonably accurate (after making allowance for production constraints. One aspect which might appear strange to the modern viewer was the age of the Midshipmen. In the 18th century it was not unusual for boys as young as 12 to serve as midshipmen (although people this young were often officially signed on as "young gentlemen" or "captains servants" so they could earn seatime whiles waiting for an official midshipmans position to fall vacant. Also it was not unusual for some midshipmen to be as old as 35 (since the Lieutenants exams were somewhat selective: these older midshipmen.effectively functioned as warrant officers and some went on to become masters mates and sailing masters.

An omission that some old tars might notice, is that we never saw the lads on the Defiant get their daily tot of rum. During the period in question this was the highlight of Jolly Jacks day. As the Royal Navy did not abolish the rum ration until 31 July 1970, and this film was made in 1962, this seems a very strange ommission!
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 4 July 2010
I love these films: the sets are so obviously sets and the actors really divert one from that, the characterisation in their acting craft tells the story. These people are real.

Yet even with sets the atomosphere is thick with seafaring 18th C. The lighting and camera work knocks the socks of the sfx/big budgets of today.

Guinness, Bogarde and Quayle aaah - what actors ... where are the same today? So many actors today remain the actor-in-charcter not the character in the story. Love these films - the story is all - and the speech at the end - the moral of the story. Based on true story.
Great! Job done ... the characters told their story not the actors!

Too many of todays films just leave you with emotion but no door out.

This is a must for film buffs the true meaning of "Classic Film and yes classic actors.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 18 August 2010
HMS Defiant is a good old-fashioned film with a generally good cast, fine production values, solid direction, and a reasonably intelligent script. I first saw it many years ago and I'm glad to say that seeing it again reinforced my memory of its quality. readng through the Amazon synopsis and some of the other reviews, I kept seeing that the film is set during the Napoleonic Wars. Actually, to be a tad pedantic, it's not. The film is set in 1797 and Napoleon did not come to power until 1799. This film takes place during the French Revolutionary Wars when the European powers - all monarchies - were trying to stop the spread of revolutionary ideas. Of course, this being an English film, the script doesn't quite see it that way.

Still, as a bit of escapism, it's not a bad movie.
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on 24 May 2015
I seem to be going through a phase of enjoying nautical films...a.guiness is one of my favourite screen actors. in this he contrasts well with bogardes character. dvd has no extras, but tarnsfer is good.

the film had the bad luck, or planning to be released at about the same time as mgm's mutiy on the bounty, the brando/howard one..

that epic must have diluted this films impact.
my other recent dvd naval efofrts are sink the bismark, battle of the river plate and the yangtse river incident.

aall good films and dvds.
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