The Mercy is a compelling film about human fault told through the true story of the ill-fated, amateur sailor Donald Crowhurst, who set out to win the Sunday Times Golden Globe Race (a solo, non-stop, around-the-world yacht voyage), only to fabricate his entire journey, shocking the world with his deceit. A tale of dreams and desperation, retold with a level of honesty far greater than expected, The Mercy combines a beautiful script and captivating performances from Colin Firth (Donald Crowhurst) and Rachel Weisz (Clare Crowhurst) to make a film that is worth a watch.
Crowhurst is a loving husband, a father of four, and, ultimately, a dreamer, who spends his time running a failing sea navigation business and taking his family sailing on the weekends. Drawn to the allure of experiencing and achieving something so few could ever do, the race seduces Crowhurst with its 5000-pound-prize and the promise of restoring credibility to his business. He becomes determined to win the perilous race, despite a disturbing lack of experience. In order to compete he has to mortgage his business and his house, forcing him out onto the waves for seven months in an alarmingly faulty boat with limited communication and no choice left but to succeed.
Naturally, he falls behind his competitors despite his high hopes. He is forced to admit that his dreams and those of his supporters, are all but dashed, forced to drown in the frothing waves beneath him. Then, Crowhurst makes an infamous decision, one that would irrefutably change his life in ways he could not have foreseen: he decides to lie about his progress.
In a desperate attempt to avoid financial ruin or tempt fate by continuing on with his rapidly deteriorating yacht, Crowhurst begins to record two versions of his journey in separate log books. One is dedicated to the falsehood he begins formulating, and the latter to the truth—the tragic reality of an anguished man imprisoned in his own yacht, treading water in the South Atlantic for seven months in self-imposed isolation, slowly losing his mind.
At this point, The Mercy becomes somewhat of a slow-burner, taking time to build tension and unease—although with a considerable emotional payoff. Deafening silence hangs heavily over Crowhurst, as he sits idly in his boat. All we can hear is the clink of the rigging against the mast, the rustle of the sails in the wind and the mocking slap of the waves against the hull. This is Crowhurst’s world. The all-consuming silence of his day-to-day existence is desolating, and completely contrasts the colourful and energetic flashbacks we see of life before he set sail. The excited cries of children unwrapping presents beneath a glowing Christmas tree run in stark comparison with the mournful, haunting carols Crowhurst plays on his rusted harmonica as he sits alone on the sea.
Flashbacks and flash-forwards interweave together to create a powerful image of all that Crowhurst has seemingly lost, but is still fighting for; and the aching journey of a man desperately trying to rectify his mistakes in order to protect the ones he loves. All the while, he appears to be slipping through your fingers, as though you are watching a close friend slowly forget who you are.
This is what Firth’s performance brings to The Mercy; he captivates in the portrayal of Crowhurst’s weakest moments of disillusion and despair—from his fevered outbursts and hallucinations to his faint smiles of remembrance. Weitz holds down the home front with a convincing and truthful performance as the strong and ever-loyal wife of Crowhurst; in a wonderful show of resilience and heart-breaking sorrow, she publicly shuts down the media that hounds her family so persistently.
Crowhurst asks this question at the beginning of the film: “Life must be lived. So, the question is, what can you do to give it all meaning?” The Mercy asks many important and profound questions, but doesn’t pretend to hold the solutions. It offers infrequent answers that you wouldn’t expect, and often not the ones you want to hear. In the fitting words of Crowhurst’s son, Simon, “It’s a story that tells you something about what it means to be human.”
Whether you take that to mean humans are riddled with pride too strong to overcome; or that they make mistakes trying to attain a higher world knowledge, or a greater sense of achievement; or that they are simply breakable, however sad that might be; we are, after all, human. And Donald Crowhurst was human in every sense of the word.