(2002) TV

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Director:                Charles Sturridge
Writer:                   Charles Sturridge
Music:                     Adrian Johnston
Cinematography:  Henry Braham



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This two part drama [note it’s not a film!] details the exploits of Sir Earnest Shackletons 1914-16 Trans-Antarctica Expedition. It’s on this website because it truly is British [funding, acting and theme] and the director Charles Sturridge does a wonderful job in terms of recreating the intensity of the expedition and the acting – well it’s simply breath taking. At 3 hours 26 mins it is too big for the big screen and whilst it could have been chopped to about 3 hours – well these days that’s still [apparently] too big. Personally I love the longer movies at they give the opportunity for character development that simply you can’t fit into the standard fare of 85 minutes these days.

The first 100 minutes is concerned with the origins of the expedition, and Shackleton's efforts to raise support and prepare for it. The son of an Irish country doctor, he served in the Merchant Navy, but by 1914 he was a very experienced polar explorer, having been on two major earlier expeditions; he was in fact the Englishman who had been closest to the South Pole and survived. Kenneth Branagh's full-on performance as Shackleton gives us a clear picture of the sort of man he is, ambitious, hard-driving, single-minded, yet one who genuinely cares for the men under his command. He is even aware of the effect his exploration obsession is having on his family life (not to mention his relationship with his mistress), but he plows on regardless. Sturridge times this section nicely and it’s made fascinating to watch the crew come together and the rather humorous exploits of trying to raise the funding.

In the second half we are stuck on the polar pack ice, and the story turns into a ripping yarn, but it is told with economy and a certain amount of classically British humour. It is clear that, apart from luck, Shackleton and his men (the animals, alas, did not make it) owed their survival to Shackleton's good judgment and the fact that he was able to get all of them to rise to the occasion. He might have been slightly mad to get into such a fix to begin with, but he had no wish to suffer the fate of his colleague Captain Scott.

Branagh dominates the film of course, but his crew, mostly made up of little-known actors, come through as characters in their own right. Several stand out; Ken Drury as McNiesh, the feisty ship's carpenter, Kevin McNally as Worsley the reliable skipper, Celyn Jones as the Welsh stowaway Blackborow, and Nicholas Rowe as Colonel, the expedition odd-man-out. It is melancholy to recall, that several of the crew survived the Antarctic only to die in the trenches in France. Matt Day as the Australian photographer Frank Hurley, who produced some unforgettable images of the trip, also puts in a strong performance. The characters at home seem bloodless by comparison, with the exception of Phoebe Nicholl's determined Lady Shackleton. One wonders how Lord Curzon, that very superior person, who presided over the very tight-fisted Royal Geographical Society (nicely played by Corin Redgrave) would have got by on the expedition.








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