A Haunting Adaptation – Crowhurst (Film Review)

The tragic tale of Donald Crowhurst and his ambitious attempt to circumnavigate the globe has attracted the attention of a number of documentarians/filmmakers over the years. And this latest take, from director Simon Rumley, is easily the most unique yet, imbuing the narrative proceedings with an avant-garde sensibility that will shock, disorientate and ultimately, affect you in ways you might not expect.

By this, I mean that the foundational story might not seem like it lends itself to what can best be described as a David Lynchian aesthetic. As summarised earlier, Crowhurst covers the eponymous British entrepreneur (Justin Salinger) who, in 1968, took the risky decision to take part in the Sunday Times Golden Globe Race, sailing across the globe for the promise of a trophy, or better still, a £5,000 cash prize. The risk came from two surprising facts: Crowhurst had little experience in sailing, and had put his financial assets and home on the line so as to procure the appropriate funding for his daunting project.

But his quest, unsurprisingly, led to failure, maddening the man behind the sails and rudder of his catamaran, The Teignmouth Electron: it’s in the depiction of this that Rumley’s film excels. Unlike another recent take on Crowhurst’s story, James Marsh’s The Mercy, Crowhurst furnishes its real-life story with an overwhelming visual and aural style that perfectly encapsulates Crowhurst’s downward-spiralling mentality. From the use of multi-coloured prints reminiscent of Andy Warhol’s work, to a beating soundtrack that pierces the ear drums with high pitch screams and lowly-toned wallows, Rumley crafts an experience that captures the purity and the unbearableness of Crowhurst’s endeavour, to its utmost.

Luckily for Rumley, he also has a terrific central performer in Justin Salinger, who powerfully communicates all of Crowhurst’s inner passions and perturbations. See, Crowhurst has quite the arc. From a likeable father and husband with the next big venture on his mind, he mutates into a disheartened, emaciated figure, broken by the sheer magnitude of his situation. So the fact that this is all portrayed so naturally and effectively is a testament to Salinger’s talent.

Yet what is most pleasurable about the film, if pleasurable is the right word to use, is its technical innovation. It isn’t often that a director willingly dips into the more radically experimental aesthetics that one would find in a film by David Lynch or Stan Brakhage. Yet they are on full display here, as Rumley uses them to flesh out the internal and external struggles of his protagonist. It should be noted that acclaimed British filmmaker Nicolas Roeg (The Man Who Fell To Earth, Don’t Look Now) served as executive producer and his influence shows in this regard. It’s a match made in heaven: with Rumley’s history with horror, backed up by Roeg’s rule-bending approach, Crowhurst is a unique film in every sense of the word.

Crowhurst’s pacing isn’t perfect, with one too many detours into segments of singing that, while interesting on a conceptual level, feel a little awkward in the context of the film’s dark interpretation of the individual. Furthermore, while I would endorse the decision to see the film, this approval comes with a word of warning: much like Darren Aronofsky’s divisive mother!, Crowhurst is difficult viewing at times and requires steady attention and commitment to reach its harrowing conclusion.

But as I say, this is only a positive for me: far from disposable entertainment, Rumley’s film is non-conformist at the best possible level. With a visual and aural palette that ameliorates the highlights and hardships of Crowhurst’s crossing, served up with an exquisite lead performance from Salinger, Crowhurst is a must-see for those of you who appreciate a challenge at the cinema.

Dir: Simon Rumley

Scr: Andy Briggs

Prd: Michael Riley, Nicolas Roeg

Starring: Justin Salinger, Amy Loughton, Edwin Flay

DOP: Milton Kam

Music: Richard Chester