Based upon the tragic true life story of Donald Crowhurst and his attempt to sale around the world Crowhurst tells a story about the mental breakdown of a man in over his head.
Donald Crowhurst (Justin Salinger) is an average family man struggling to make money after investing all of his savings into his navigational aid for sailors, the Navicator, which wasn’t selling. Instead of listening to his wife and getting a regular job, he chooses to enter the Sunday Times Golden Globe Race, a single-handed circumnavigation of the world. Designing his own boat, he enters the race but soon realises that he has no hope of winning. Instead of quitting the race he falsifies his progress, hoping to cheat and come last, but find himself in an impossible situation when he becomes the likely winner.
Despite having been beaten to release by The Mercy, the Colin Firth starred telling of the Donald Crowhurst story, Crowhurst was actually filmed first, and takes a very different approach to telling it’s tale. Whilst Mercy was a glossy big budget affair, Crowhurst feels a lot smaller in scale, focusing on the mind of the man rather than his journey.
The film feels very low-tech, filmed with a fuzzy 60’s vibe and shot in tight, confining sets I actually had to check that it wasn’t a re-release of a much older film. It’s made to look very much of the time it’s set, with an older style of shooting not just in quality, but in the way shots are frames and the camera lingers for long pauses. In a lot of ways, the film comes across more like a television drama than a feature film.
What surprised most about Crowhurst, however, is how strange the film decided to be. We know from the real life log books found on board the Teingmouth Electron that Donalds mental health went seriously downhill during his voyage, and most likely led to his suicide, but I wasn’t prepared for how the film would portray this loss of sanity.
Director Simon Rumley, better known for his work in horror, makes the film feel more like an experimental movie. Characters spend time screaming at the camera, scenes are inter-cut with strange and bizarre cutaways, shots linger for no reason, and you’re assaulted by loud noises.
I understand that they’re trying to depict a man losing his mind, but these moments often feel too over the top and bizarre to actually be entertaining, and drew me out of the film on several occasions.
Despite Salinger’s good performance throughout, which is no easy feat given he’s in every single scene and has to show a descent into madness, the film often feels quite dull. It’s no fault of the filmmakers, there’s only so entertaining one man in a boat can be, but often the stylistic choices from the director harm the overall quality of the product.
Crowhurst is a tale of tragedy, of a man who got in over his head and ultimately lost his life. It should be heartbreaking and sad, but by the time the end credits rolled I was relieved that the film was over.
Crowhurst is now available on DVD and BluRay.