The Mercy

Out Now On-Demand

Colin Firth and Rachel Weisz star in this drama based on Donald Crowhurst's fatal 1968 attempt at yachting victory. Directed by Oscar-winner James Marsh.

Donald Crowhurst (Firth) was an amateur sailor who competed in the 1968 Sunday Times Golden Globe Race in the hope of becoming the first person in history to single-handedly circumnavigate the globe without stopping. With an unfinished boat and his business and house on the line, Donald leaves his wife, Clare (Weisz) and their children behind, hesitantly embarking on an adventure on his boat the Teignmouth Electron. The story of Crowhurst's dangerous solo voyage is one of the most enduring mysteries of recent times.

A true-life tale of little England eccentricity, the story of Donald Crowhurst is a strange, sorry one. In 1968 Crowhurst, a frustrated businessman, left his family to circumnavigate the globe single-handedly by boat, but he was ill-equipped, over-confident and never to return.

Stranger still, there are two films about him out this year, released (in the UK at least) by the same company. This, the bigger hitter, stars Colin Firth and Rachel Weisz and is directed by Man On Wire wunderkind James Marsh. The other, Crowhurst, is a lower-budget affair by the underrated British horror director Simon Rumley.

The Mercy gets underway in a chummy, plummy England reminiscent of Enid Blyton. Firth is a dreamer with an endlessly patient, English-rose wife (Weisz) and three cut-glass kids. But when he learns of a competition to sail the world, something inside him cries out for adventure. Or, perhaps, a Bafta.

There are three main problems here. Firstly, scriptwriter Scott Z Burns hails from Minnesota, so it’s no surprise he has little feel for 1960s Britain. Second, the dialogue is flat-out awful. “I tell you, you’re a story of derring-do waiting to be told, Donald Crowhurst,” says press agent David Thewlis, like no one ever.

The third is inherent in the material. Alone at sea, desperate to keep up appearances and going slowly insane, Crowhurst and his true fate are unknowable. To fill in the gaps, the film uses radio reports, voiceovers and the endless tapping of a telegram machine. But this just shows up how underwritten and overexposed the central role is. Firth is good as ever, but the sense is of a selfish, foolish man who’d sooner drown than admit defeat. As he puts it himself, “What a bloody awful decision.”

Empire (UK)


Despite the hint of a stiff-upper-lip kind of reserve, this is astonishingly brutal. And Firth’s performance makes this dark, dark story land.

Total Film (UK)


Firth is terrific in an unbelievable-but-true tale that charts a course from the ridiculous to the profound.

Variety (USA)


Directed with even-keeled intelligence by James Marsh, and buoyed by a performance of customary reserve and resolve from Colin Firth, The Mercy tells its story...about as well as it can be told.

Hollywood Reporter


This unresolved maritime mystery feels oddly flat and functional, diluting a tragic tale full of unanswered questions into an anodyne middlebrow weepie.

TimeOut (London)


It's no heroic tale; 'The Mercy' is thoughtful, uncomfortable viewing.

The Guardian (UK)


Colin Firth is interesting casting as Crowhurst: he is very good at suggesting the man's decency and likability as well as his perfectly genuine courage and ingenuity.

The Times (UK)


How they got the Donald Crowhurst story wrong is its own minor tragedy. (Graeme Tuckett)


Crowhurst's story is laid out with wit, dignity and insight. Very recommended.

Listener (Peter Calder)


It’s Firth’s film, really. He has a feel for quixotic, pained heroes, and Crowhurst is as quixotic as they come.