(14/12/06) – "We are all human beings and we all have dreams." The quote opening Deep Water, Louise Osmond and Jerry Rothwell’s shattering documentary recounting the true events of would-be sailor Donald Crowhurst’s attempts at sailing around the world on a self-built, hi tech-filled yacht, is more telling than its seeming simplicity might lead us to believe. Deep Water is a softly edited and respectfully executed reconstruction of the 1968 Sunday Times Golden Globe Race, a single-handed, around-the-world race Crowhurst took part in. Four decades and countless television documentaries later, the devastating story is afforded the film treatment for the first time, and Osmond and Rothwell’s measured approach pulls all the right stops.
At the time of the race, Crowhurst was a 36-year old electrical engineer and marine electronics whiz with ambitions as big as any venture of this scale was risky. Encouraged by the coveted money prize and the recognition winning a race of this scale would bring, Crowhurst took matters into his own hands. The non-stop trip covering 48,000 kilometres on his self-built "Teignmouth Electron" was largely derided by the press and his peers as a hopeless attempt at self-aggrandisement with little in the way of any realistic chance of succeeding. Unshaken by any of this, Crowhurst remortgaged his house and took off, leaving his wife and child behind. After weeks of relatively slow progress during which his increasingly fragile boat was slowly shattering hopes of him completing the race alive and faced with the prospect of ridicule would he fail to stick to the trip, Cowhurst was faced with a tough dilemma: pack it in or soldier on regardless.
For Osmond and Roswell, there was little to add to the story. By diligently collating the wealth of archival footage and clearing the facts from any fictional contrivances, they managed to create a film that is at once painfully poignant and heartstring-tuggingly surreal. The less is more mantra was a good call as the meticulous sweep through historical data, video footage and Cowhurst’s own recordings add up to a measured, non-preaching take on the facts. This thoughtful story of a man’s final attempt at chasing his lifelong dream revels in Cowhurst’s stubborn bravado, yet his puzzling persona remains as perplexing an enigma as it ever has been. His wife and son’s woeful sorrows, the heart of the film’s heart-shredding predicament, resonate through the empty ocean seas in a way that is tragically moving.
Tottering swiftly between run-of-the-mill narrative and emotionally ravaging mystery fiction, Deep Water doles out little in the way of any new insight into the events that unfolded in those months, but the meticulous research and respectful tone more than make up for the lack of novelty. Unlike much of the recent resurgence in the investigative documentary genre, Deep Water is affecting purely on the back of its story. As much a psychological as a physical trip, Crowhurst’s mindless perseverance is a telling display of a man’s stubbornness in blindly chasing his own selfish desires.
Deep Water is as far removed from fiction despite having all the features of a big budget Hollywood enterprise, replete with action mayhem and thriller frolics. Instead, the film trades large scale thrills with pensive, emotional minimalism, and finds the perfect balance between the two.
Deep Water is released in the UK tomorrow, 15 December.