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United Kingdom 1953
Directed by
Charles Frend
126 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars

The Cruel Sea

Much of this post-war British film, adapted by Eric Ambler from a novel of the same name by Nicholas Monsarrat, gives audiences a diligently detailed portrayal of life aboard a small Royal Navy.convoy escort, the Compass Rose. This is a lot less appealing than it would have been back in the day and the two hour running time many well seem over-indulgent, particularly as the action sequences rely quite a bit on stock footage and cheap effects whilst the film itself never really bears out the promise of its title.

Although not in the league of the classic David Lean/Noel Coward wartime propaganda film In Which We Serve (1942), fortunately in its second half the film acquires a measure of dramatic depth and the film moves past its familiar typology of jolly good chaps (amongst them John Stratton, Donald Sinden, and in an early role, Denholm Elliot) finding their sea legs as they deal with a bullying First Lieutenant (Stanley Baker) to look at how Lt. Cmdr. George Ericson (Jack Hawkins) deals with the trauma of losing his boat and men. Even if after the fact,The Cruel Sea is essentially a propaganda film so ol’George soon pulls himself together which is not entirely surprising as he had already recovered remarkably easily from running over a bunch of fellow British seamen, survivors from a U-boat attack, in order to catch the culprit. Today we would also be rather taken aback by the jubilation of the Compass Rose crew when they finally sink a U-boat with all hands aboard.

The war also takes a domestic form with various of the cast having more or less tragic shore experiences although once again the film finds a positive note with Sinden landing a romance with a plucky WREN played by that paragon of 1950s virtuous English beauty, the well-named Virginia McKenna.

The film made a star of Hawkins who went on to become one of the icons of British film until his relatively early death in 1973 aged 62. 




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