Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Deep Water

I had no idea that this documentary—released in the U.K. in December 2006—existed until a friend, knowing of my interest in the Donald Crowhurst tragedy, told me about it. The film has not been shown in North America—apart from at the Telluride Film Festival in the fall of 2006—nor is it available on North American DVD; but it is available on British (Region 2) DVD, and I promptly ordered a copy, which arrived yesterday. Thanks to our multi-system DVD player I was able to watch it, and was deeply impressed, as was Christopher. Even our nine-year-old son Tim watched the whole thing, and agreed afterwards that it was excellent: high praise indeed, considering that most children of his age would, I suspect, have to be paid a substantial sum before they watched almost any sort of documentary, at least outside school hours.

The filmmakers were able to draw on the audio tapes and films which Crowhurst took while he was on board the Teignmouth Electron, and which were found, intact, when the boat was recovered. There are also revealing and candid interviews with a number of people who were intimately connected with the drama, notably competitor Robin Knox-Johnston, Crowhurst's best friend Ron Winspear, Crowhurst's son Simon, and his widow, Claire, who is completely honest about the experience and clearly still saddened by the events of almost forty years ago, which she admits, in the press kit available on the film's web site, she thinks about several times a week even now. Effective use is made of excerpts from Crowhurst's logbooks, including the chilling 'It is the mercy' passage which I quote in a previous entry, and the final shots of the film will bring a lump to the throat of anyone with a pulse.

The filmmakers have resisted the urge to demonise anyone. Crowhurst may have been a deeply flawed man, but he is presented sympathetically, and presented in such a way that it is easy to see how at every step of the voyage he faced terrible choices, all of which led inevitably to death, or ruin, or public humiliation. In his position, faced with his choices, what would any of us do? Rodney Hallworth, Crowhurst's press agent, comes in for the most damning examination, and in a fascinating extra feature many of the journalists who were involved in covering the Golden Globe race try to determine how much culpability any of them had for what occurred. While there is some inevitable ducking for cover, at least one journalist confesses that he must, he feels, accept some responsibility for what happened to Crowhurst, and that he must live with that on his conscience for the rest of his life.

In addition to the film itself, there are a number of fascinating extras, including lengthy (five to ten minutes each) video features about the other eight competitors, all of which draw on archival footage and some of which feature new interviews with the participants, such as Knox-Johnston, or the widows of some of the competitors, such as Nigel Tetley's wife Eve and Bernard Moitessier's wife Françoise. It's interesting to note how Claire Crowhurst, Eve Tetley, and Françoise Moitessier—who are shown in the film, in footage from 1968, as the 'sea widows'—have all come to terms with those events of so long ago, and the inner voice which compelled their men to take part in an event which most sane people would consider suicidal. All three, in different ways, express the view that one must follow one's dreams, no matter the cost, and that however insane they may have appeared to outsiders, something in all three compelled them to do this thing, so that their wives could no more dream of stopping them than they could of flying.

Anyone interested in learning more about the Golden Globe race and the Crowhurst tragedy, from the perspective of many of those who were intimately connected with it, should make every effort to see Deep Water, a fascinating documentary which does a fine job of bringing a four-decades-old tragedy to vivid, and devastating, life.

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