Top positive review
87 people found this helpful
on 14 July 2007
Golding was fascinated with what happens when a group of humanity is thrown on their own, isolated from other humanity and forced to recreate their own society. He studied this in Lord of the Flies, and in a great way in the sea trilogy that this film is based upon.
The story involves maturation of Edmund Talbot, an aristocrat who takes ship from England for Sydney, Australia, to take up a post sponsored by his influential Godfather. It's also the story of a group of people of disparate backgrounds who are jumbled into the cramped confines of an elderly, leaky man o' war, with all of the effluvia of 50-year-old ballast and the constant suppuration of slimy bilge water, and packed humanity crammed between the decks. Finally, it's a story about class and status, and how it begins to break down in the pressure cooker of isolation. Captain Anderson, a fiery naval post-captain (one wonders whose bad side he'd got on to get an onerous assignment like this) excellently interpreted by Jared Harris, bears upon his shoulders the task of getting this creaky old tub absolutely packed with humanity the 15,000 miles and projected 9 months sailing to Sydney Cove. It is no easy task, and one of the real stars of this movie is the almost mordant stubbornness of Anderson and his officers and crew to overcome the odds in keeping everyone alive, hopefully, to the end.
Class looms large in this series as it loomed large in the day - the emigrants - a faceless crowd crammed into the deathly, stinking hold - the crew, who live even further in the bowels of the ship (but at least aren't stuck there), the first class passengers in their cabins, enjoying some measure of comfort, even if it's considerably rough at times, finally the officers, themselves an uncomfortable jumble of aristocracy and commoner, rubbing each other raw in the relentless grind of the long months at sea.
Edmund gets off to a bad start - they are not even out of the Channel before he disobeys orders and suffers a blast of real old time Naval wrath before Anderson realizes who he is. Anderson may be a god upon his quarterdeck, he may be a man of considerable personal power, but his annoying and scofflaw passenger must be deferred to - you can see Anderson grinding his teeth as he throttles his temper. He defers to Talbot, but it is a long, long time before Talbot earns his respect, and this begins Talbot's first lesson.
It takes very little time for the strain of isolation and monotony to show, in the passengers and the officers, and in the fabric of the ship itself, a real physical metaphor for the chaos it holds. Built to specs of a ship of its exact era, the ship is one of the most compelling characters of the film. Quite a few scenes are enough to make one seasick, and there is a great deal of realism of detail, right down to the struggles to shave in a tiny round mirror, a drinking party that has the drinkers chasing their bottles and glasses about the table as much as actually drinking from them, the men up in the rigging, the incredible heat of the doldrums, the boredom, and the relentless deterioration of the creaky ship itself. Golding expects his readers, and this is reflected in the film, to have some knowledge of conditions in that era, and one knows, without having to be told that in this small floating world upon an empty immensity of sea, the price of inattention, or of neglect of duty, can be death. And death does occur, inexorably, as people succumb to despair, violence or fear, or simply wear out.
Golding built a very psychological story, and both the writing and the excellent casting reflect this. Each character is presented with flaws and strengths, gaffes and graces. No character is completely sympathetic, save for perhaps Mr. Summers, the first lieutenant, but most are not altogether bad. It is up to the viewer to make up their own mind as to how they will view this motley collection of allsorts. Humanity can be hilariously ridiculous just struggling along through life, and there is a great deal of real humour in this film. Cumberbatch as Talbot is an excellent physical comic - expressive, active, with perfect timing. Mr. Brockleby and his 'floating brothell' burst into the action at the strangest moments. The dialogue is filled with wry humour. Several difficult portraits are deftly interpreted: Jared Harris's Captain is a bit of a hood, with his aggressive stance and tough expression, stalking about the ship until you stumble onto his gentler side, a furtive, startling thing. Victoria Hamilton as Miss Grantham is one of the strongest portraits, a woman composed of steely intelligence, passion and uncomfortably acute insights - Golding gives her some of the finest dialogue, and this is faithfully reproduced in this film.
In fact, this film is very faithful to the book, yet for one of the very few times in my experience, I actually enjoyed the film more than the book, which is basically the diary of Edmund Talbot. Despite events in the film being bridged by Talbot's fluent narration, and the whole housed by his own experience, the omniscient viewpoint of the filming to me liberated the characters from the filter of Talbot's written prejudices and allowed them to stand on their own, for better or worse, with all of their flaws, their prejudices and their humanity.
I highly recommend this series not just as a period drama, but as a study of exactly what, when tested to its furthest limits, humanity really means.