- Actors: Michael Gambon, Ian Hart, Nigel Davenport, Christopher Hodsol, Jeremy Irons
- Directors: Charles Sturridge
- Format: PAL, Colour, HiFi Sound, Full Screen
- Language: English
- Aspect Ratio: 4:3 - 1.33:1
- Studio: Vci
- VHS Release Date: 8 April 2002
- Run Time: 198 minutes
- Average Customer Review: 140 customer reviews
- ASIN: B00004R825
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 259,239 in DVD & Blu-ray (See Top 100 in DVD & Blu-ray)
In 1714 Parliament offer a £20,000 prize for anyone who can provide an accurate means of measuring longitude at sea. John Harrison (Michael Gambon) flies in the face of popular opinion by saying that the stars do not provide the answer, and provides his own solution with the invention of a mechanical clock. However, it takes Harrison forty years to prove his theory, and he is eventually forgotten in the mists of time. Centuries later, Robert Gould (Jeremy Irons) attempts to restore Harrison's reputation by tracking down and repairing the four clocks he originally constructed.
Gracefully adapted from Dava Sobel's extraordinary bestseller, the four-part TV production of Longitude combines drama, history and science into a stimulating, painstakingly authentic account of personal triumph and joyous discovery. Equally impressive is the way writer-director Charles Sturridge has crafted parallel stories that complement each other with enriching perspective. The first story involves the successful 40-year effort of 18th-century clockmaker John Harrison (Michael Gambon) to solve the elusive problem of measuring longitude at sea. In 1714 the British Parliament had offered a generous reward to anyone who solved the problem, and Harrison devoted his life to that solution. The second story, some 200 years later, involves the effort of shell-shocked British Navy veteran Rupert Gould (Jeremy Irons) to restore the glorious clocks that Harrison had built. Like Harrison, Gould is the most admirable type of obsessive, but, also like Harrison, he risks his marriage to accomplish his difficult task. Thousands of sailors perished at sea before Harrison's triumph changed history, but Longitude demonstrates that Harrison's glory was slow to arrive--and his prize money even slower. A fascinating study of 18th-century British politics and clashing egos in the arena of science, the film is both epic and intimate in consequence , and Sturridge's magnificent script inspires Gambon and Irons to do some of the best work of their outstanding careers . The ever-reliable Ian Hart appears in Part 3 as Harrison's now-adult son and apprentice, and Longitude approaches its dramatic climax with the exhilarating tension of a first-rate thriller. Rallying after sickness to prove the integrity of their marvellous seafaring chronometers, the Harrisons still had to fight for official recognition, and Gould's restoration of the Harrison clockworks provides a fitting coda to this exceptional story about the thrill of discovery and the tenacity of remarkable men. --Jeff Shannon, Amazon.com
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The problem was important, especially for the great trading and warring nations of Europe, pre-eminent among them Britain and France. Influencing this need to know were several things: empires, colonies, possessions, dominion, power, military strategy, commerce and prestige. Loss of ships, shipping and men was costly. A solution had to be found. The key was time, or obtaining an accurate measurement of it. If you knew both local time at sea and time at your home country or port (the place of embarkation), you could calculate your longitudinal position by measuring the time difference. Trouble was, no clocks at sea worked. They couldn’t keep accurate time. They were big, bulky, pendulum-driven, requiring steady ground under them to maintain accuracy. At sea there is no ground, steady or not. Every newly designed clock for the British Admiralty had been a failure. Finally, in exasperation, the Admiralty went public in 1714, opening the problem to the public and inviting anyone to step forward with constructive ideas. Many crackpots came forward of course, testing the patience of the Longitude Board set up by Parliament. But there were serious-minded persons as well. And it didn’t hurt at all that a massive prize of £20,000 would be paid by Parliament to the person who could solve the conundrum of place and time at sea. That amount translates to about 3 million pounds in today’s money.
John Harrison (1693-1776) was a Yorkshire carpenter and self-taught clockmaker. The age was a mechanical one and he was very mechanically minded, a tinkerer by inclination. Harrison took up the challenge posed by the Admiralty, Parliament and the crown. He thought about it deeply, toiling ceaselessly to find a solution. Several designs for prototypes were made. The first clock he built with the prize in mind (in 1736) took five years. It was exquisitely beautiful but not quite accurate enough. It had minor internal flaws and Harrison was a perfectionist. He could do better. In 1741, he produced his second clock. His story is a saga of perseverance, determination, intrigue, politics, jealousy and injustice. It went on for 40 years. In that time he built five clocks, the last two of which (nicknamed H-4 and H-5) were chronometers (small round timepieces like pocket watches, not large and bulky with pendulum-like mechanisms as the first three clocks had been).
Harrison and the H-4 (1761) changed the world. This clock, his fourth, was his masterpiece and it finally solved the riddle that had eluded everyone from Galileo and Cassini to Huygens and Halley. Everyone who knows British maritime history knows he succeeded. Even those who don’t know the details of his success know his name. On the celebrated 2002 BBC list of the 100 Greatest Britons, John Harrison ranks 39th. George Harrison, distant relative or not, is no. 62. Captain James Cook (who sailed with a copy of H-4 aboard the HMS Resolution in 1772) is no. 12 and Admiral Nelson ranks 9th.
This is John Harrison’s story and it’s a truly wild ride indeed. Actually, it’s two stories in one. Harrison’s story unfolds in the 18th century. The second is the story of both his neglected reputation and that of his clocks. It occurs in the 20th century thanks to the tireless efforts of a man named Rupert Gould (1890-1948), a retired lieutenant in the Royal Navy. It’s Gould who rediscovers the clocks in Greenwich — old, mouldy and decaying — and spends over ten years of his life meticulously disassembling, cleaning, repairing and assembling them again, restoring them to their original glory. So the journey includes two heroes and spans three centuries. Thanks to Gould you can go to the Royal Observatory in Greenwich today and see the clocks under glass, still up and running (apart from H-4 and H-5; they are displayed but remain unwound. Why? So their internal parts will last another thousand years!). Dava Sobel, the writer of the original book “Longitude” (1995) on which the series is based, wrote this of H-4:
“It is the Mona Lisa or The Night Watch of horology”, by which she means clockmaking. A world treasure, in other words.
Michael Gambon is the tireless but beleaguered adult John Harrison in the film. Jeremy Irons is Rupert Gould. Why did Gould go to all the trouble of working so long and diligently on Harrison’s clocks? He was a sensitive man who had had a nervous breakdown during the First World War, that awful and pointless war that destroyed so much. It affected his marriage too, which fell apart after the war. His obsession with the clocks was thus therapeutic for him, a way of regaining sanity and purpose. So this beautiful series (ITV, 2000) honours him too along with Harrison.
Other important characters in the story:
William Harrison, John’s son as a young man (Ian Hart); the astronomer Sir Edmond Halley (John Wood), Nevil Maskelyne (Samuel West), jealous and spiteful of Harrison’s success and abusive in his position as head of the Longitude Board; James Harrison (Stephen Simms), John Harrison’s younger brother and colleague who assisted him in building the clocks; Edmund Burke (T.P. McKenna), an influential politician and writer of the day, especially on the French Revolution; and many others.
Dava Sobel closes her book with the following paragraph, one I find I cannot improve upon:
“With his marine clocks, John Harrison tested the water of space-time. He succeeded, against all odds, in using the fourth — temporal — dimension to link points of the three-dimensional globe. He wrestled the world’s whereabouts from the stars, and locked the secret in a pocket watch.”
Running time: 250 mins.
Awards: winner of 5 BAFTAs in 2001, including best drama and best actor (Michael Gambon). Jeremy Irons is excellent too.
200 Years later Rupert Gould (Jeremy Irons) sets out to repair and restore all of Harrison's inventions at great personal loss to himself, and in doing so, he put John Harrison firmly the Maritime history books.
Charles Sturridge the director said: "Harrison was a real life forgotten hero, rediscovered by Rupert Gould and made famous by Dava Sobel.
One DVD has all four episodes, originally aired over 2 days in the year 2000. This is a fascinating historical drama with a stellar cast and supporting cast.
Now go on ask yourselves if you knew this? I bet most of you say no as I did.
The film also has a 2nd more modern theme running parallel,this is where Jeremy Irons who had been a Commander in the Navy and subsequently had a nervous breakdown,was captivated with the story of the origin of true Longitude at sea,and he devoted himself to unearthing and rebuilding all the old clocks made by Harrison..,however WW2 made his progress difficult as all the old works of art and valuable treasures were being moved into safe keeping.
You will enjoy this film as it shows the patient and harrowing quest of one man and his son who devoted their lives to finding out how to keep a clock pendulum steady on the high seas,through hell and high water..It was said by the experts at that time it could not be done,except by Astronomical readings.The Reverend Maskelyne was the one who adamantly stuck to this theory and totally rejected the trials and tribulations of inventor John Harrison,the son of a Yorkshire carpenter.
Maskelyne was a vindictive but well educated man and a social climber,who eventually took the chair of the Board of Longitude.This same board were offering a prize of thousands of pounds to the person who could devise a method of keeping true Longitude readings at sea.
Even when it was proven that Harrisons clocks were accurate at sea over the course of many extremely difficult trials,Maskelyne blocked the prize being given to Harrison,not once but several times.Harrison and his son soldiered on for 50 years until their chronometer finally solved the Longitude problem.
This is a very good film with plenty of action that comes in 2 parts.Initially It appeared to me, after the 1st half finished and the credits rolled up on the screen that that was that,however it started then on the second half so be patient and don't switch off as I nearly did.
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