There’s something rather endearing about Simon Rumley’s small budget biopic in which he details the mental unravelling of yachtsman Donald Crowhurst, just before his disappearance whilst trying to solo circumnavigate the globe in 1968.
Released a mere 6 weeks after James Marsh’s The Mercy, which pretty much told the same story, albeit with a bigger budget and bigger stars (Colin Firth and Rachel Weisz play the doomed sailor and his wife Clare), Crowhurst offers a flawed, yet deeply engaging story about a weekend sailor who cheated his way into winning the first Sunday Times Golden Globe prize by lying about his whereabouts during the race. Crowhurst was eventually declared winner by default when his competitors withdrew from the race one by one, however the sailor never made it back home to collect his prize and is believed to have killed himself out of the sheer embarrassment of being found out.
Justin Salinger stars as Donald Crowhurst, the inventor of a navigation system who allows himself to be swept up by the growing popularity of amateur sailing. Unable to resist the prospect of fame and fortune after going from one failed innovation to another, Crowhurst can’t quite believe his luck when he receives a sponsorship from a local caravan manufacturer who agrees to bankroll is attempt to circumnavigate the globe solo on a brand new catamaran, the Teignmouth Electron.
Rumley offers a complicated and slightly “out there” interpretation of Crowhurst’s descent into madness throughout his ordeal. While his characters can can at times appear a little mechanical and stunted, there is no doubt that they remain in the long run way more believable than those offered by Marsh’s movie.
Crowhurst may not be as accessible as its most recent predecessor, but Rumley shows again that he is capable of much more than just approaching the subject from the most predictable angles. Things get pretty disjointed and almost psychedelic once he sets his mind at attempting to decipher what must have been going on in Donald Crowhurst’s mind shortly before his disappearance. Hard as one might try, it is impossible not to compare the way both films approach this particular episode, but it is ultimately Rumley who has the upper hand here.
Salinger’s depiction of Crowhurt might lack the expertise of Firth, but his character is way also far more believable. The same thing for goes for Amy Loughton who offers Clare Crowhurst as an ordinary housewife with very little glamour, something which was lacking in Weisz’s depiction of her in The Mercy.
On the whole, the film might not be perfect by any measure, but it remains an interesting interpretation of this particular story, which is more of a shame that this was pipped at the post by its more glamorous predecessor.