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A privilege to watch
on 1 February 2009
This DVD is a handsome testament to a remarkable episode in the annals of Antarctica exploration. It was filmed by the indefatigable Australian Frank Hurley. It is a fascinating glimpse back through time. We are made to feel like time travellers landing in a different time and place. The film covers that well documented expedition led by Sir Ernest Shackleton in 1914-16. It was an epoch changing time just before the grim reality of the trenches set in. Britain needed heroes and that is what it got.
Hurley captures the excitement of setting out on the great adventure. Scenes of life on the boat are captured. We see Hurley hanging off the Endurance's prow, for that special shot. Then as we know the ship becomes entombed in the slow crushing grip of the ice. We watch enthralled at the ships death throes. All captured magnificently on film. Most memorable perhaps, and an iconic picture, was the night film of the doomed ship festooned in ice like something from a fairy tale. Thankfully at some risk Hurley retrieved all the film from the sinking ship. It was interesting to see the huge snow piles made in a circle around the ship to prevent people getting lost in storms. That was how bad the weather could be. Of course the final epic journey across the tempestuous Southern ocean in the little boat the "James Caird", and the subsequent crossing of South Georgia to summon help from the whaling station could not be captured. But what is left is a reminder of a glorious epic of cameraderie, endurance and leadership.
This wonderful restoration is a fitting eulogy to these brave men, many of whom went on to fight and die in the trenches during the Great war. It is also a tribute to the leadership of Shackleton who died too young and is buried appropriately on that remote island of South Georgia, constantly scoured by polar winds from the great ice shelf.
Please pause to remember when this film was made. The equipment Hurley worked with was very primitive compared with today. The wildlife scenes are very poor fare compared to the David Attenborough programmes we have today. But at the time it was exciting stuff to see such strange animals in their own environment.
If you have any interest in the history of Polar exploration then this is essential viewing. Not only has Hurley managed to produce a piece of art but it is also a national treasure. This is a very worthy restoration. I am sure those men would be most surprised to learn that all these years later people would be able to watch this film in the comfort of their own homes. It is a privilege we should not take for granted.