Inspired by Sir Francis Chichester, the first man to sail a yacht around the world with a stop off half way, an amateur sailor and inventor of the novicator named Donald Crowhurst (Colin Firth) decides to compete in the Sunday Times Golden Globe Race of 1968. The race challenges sailors to circumnavigate the globe without stopping. Offering their love and support are Donald’s wife, Claire (Rachel Weisz), and two children, while he also has a press agent (David Thewlis) and sponsor (Ken Scott) behind the scenes. The Mercy follows the real life figure of Crowhurst’s perilous journey across the ocean and his disintegrating confidence and mental state.
James Marsh, director of Stephen Hawking biopic The Theory of Everything and Oscar holder for documentary Man on Wire, takes on another true life story in his latest feature film. However, this one is of an admirably different kind to what we’re used to seeing from the director. Here, our protagonist is ordinary and unheroic, and while the execution of a story such as this must have been daunting, Marsh rises to the occasion with great skill and sensitivity.
Firth is pitch-perfect in the role of Crowhurst. As with The King’s Speech, he again takes on a real life personality, but one far less grand and much more solemn, perhaps the closest of which we’ve seen in Firth's recent credits being his lead role in A Single Man. What’s really admirable about what him and Marsh have achieved here is to take a story that by today’s sensationalist standards may seem unimportant, lacklustre or too depressing to bother with, and given it a lease on life that is challenging but important to bear witness to.
Beautifully shot by Éric Gautier (best-known for his work on The Motorcycle Diaries), the film also benefits from having Weisz in the cast as the supportive, loving wife. The marriage between the Crowhursts is represented lovingly while the picture painted of their hometown of Teignmouth, Devon, is a pretty one. It’s all very nice, tender and hopeful starting off, but after a turn towards the sombre, The Mercy becomes increasingly melancholic and we recommend you bring tissues for the heart-breaking finale.