Though his preceding feature The Theory of Everything picked up numerous Oscar nominations (even winning one), James Marsh’s The Mercy is the more accomplished piece of cinema, albeit overlooked at this year’s award’s season. There are parallels too, in how we’re focusing on one man’s steely drive and blissful sense of optimism and ambition, and how that can affect his wife and children.

Colin Firth plays the man in question, the idealistic yachtsman Donald Crowhurst who decides to take on the 1968 Global Globe Race, where he must sail around the world, on his own, without stopping. Though such an endeavour is aimed at more experienced, diligent sailors, he is determined to prove the doubters wrong, seeking to design and build his very own boat and set off before the approaching deadline. His wife Clare (Rachel Weisz) is convinced he’ll eventually turn off the idea, but with the local press behind him, including journalist Rodney Hallworth (David Thewlis) and businessman Mr. Best (Ken Stott) funding his campaign, there are a lot of people he would let down if he does decides to back down, including himself, of course.

The Mercy is a beautifully crafted and moving account of this one’s quite troublesome sense of delusion, and Marsh has structured his tale wonderfully. The way the filmmakers moves between Donald’s solo mission, to how the locals and his family are coping back home is seamless, avoiding any sense of tedium, which would’ve been so easy to achieve given the narrative is effectively one man alone on a boat – and yet it remains absorbing throughout. Marsh is not afraid to use silence as a great tool either, as we enter into Donald’s mind, watching everything tick over in slow motion, as he contemplates his decision to set sail. Yet it’s never truly silent – you can always hear the sound of the ocean, almost deafening in its intimidation, proving to be, as so often in cinema, such an unforgiving, formidable adversary.

For this film to work, and for it to achieve it’s quite striking emotional impact, it requires a strong leading performance, and Firth delivers. He has this tragic, misplaced sense of optimism, he’s deluded and ever so slightly manic with it, and in turn, you can’t help but root for his cause and pray for his safety. While you completely adhere to his project and believe he can triumph in the face of adversity, Firth injects a vital sense of vulnerability to the role, and we too can see the doubts and anxieties from within. What transpires is a truly compelling character study of this one man, with an emotional impact that is sure to linger long after the final credits roll.

The Mercy is released on February 9th.