Deep Water (PG)

Nov 28, 2007
Cranbrook Film Society

This documentary is about the challenge race set by the Sunday Times, in the wake of sailor Francis Chichester’s solo circumnavigation of the globe, for a solo sailor to go round the world without stopping. Louise Osmond and Jerry Rothwell’s documentary is well researched and carefully written. Amongst the producers was John Smithson who also produced the hugely successful mountain climbing drama documentary “Touching the Void” (2004).

I’ve always found adventurers really annoying. Egotistical and irresponsible, any one of them who has small children especially should be banned from abseiling, mountain climbing or any single-handed sailing further than across the Solent to the Isle of Wight.

On the other hand someone once explained to me how without ‘crazy’ adventurers we would never have ‘discovered’ the Americas, or learned to fly, or gone to the moon. Their egotism was only apparent. They really had no choice but to express their dynamic, transformative part of our common human nature. Their transgression of our normal expectations in relationships is in the name of a deeper, compulsive need to relate to the sea, the mountains, the universe. In that sense mountaineers, or lone trans ocean yachtsmen and women are mad as monks, immersing themselves in oceans of silence, which can become a terrifying interlocutor. Sadly for the hero of tonight’s film, Donald Crowhurst, he wasn’t an adventurer.

But he was very English, and the film has a great fondness for him and for national differences. Much of the structure works in the contrast between Crowhurst, the child of the Raj, and boy’s own adventure stories, still wearing a tie as he set out on his journey and clearly, although interestingly the word is never used, an amateur. And Bernard Moitessier, an experienced sailor, but who is first described by his wife, Francoise Moitessier de Cazalet, as a poet and a philosopher, someone who, not only understands but embraces the existential challenges of the oceans. His diaries are narrated with a strongly French accent, and the excerpts from his film of his own voyage are given a confident, melodic musical setting. Man, boat and sea moving together on a journey, as Bernard himself says, in which ‘you can discover who you really are’. Or at least a Frenchman can…Tilda Swinton’s bleak narration, devoid of music, does not share Bernard’s and tells us that out there, in the oceans, there was nothing. And that Donald had made the mistake of stepping outside of his practical, down to earth approach to life, and believed in an idea. Once he had done that then he was prone to imagination, and what his friend Ron Winspear, whose voice is the first we hear in the film, calls ‘the dangerous mechanism of the mind.’

Without spoiling the story I might mention what the film does not that Bernard finally made land fall in Tahiti. But like Donald, his soul had been singed by the sea and his wife, Françoise, found him ever more distant and they drifted apart.

Technically the film is excellent, skilfully weaving the lone yachtsmen’s own audio tapes and 16mm film with interviews. Digital re-mastering has given the tapes a remarkable clarity. The music by Molly Nyman and Harry Escott (who together scored “The Road to Guantanamo”) responds wonderfully to the great range of moods in the film. Mention might be made too of the production designer Jane Linz Roberts for her detailed reconstruction of Crowhurst’s ship cabin.

Louise Osmond & Jerry Rothwell | UK | 2006 | 92 minutes | PG