Before viewing Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World for the first time, I had debated watching it. I'm not a huge fan of "war films" and wasn't sure weather the content was appropriate. After reading a brief snipet on one of my favorite Jane Austen blogs that likened the hero Captain Jack Aubrey to Captain Wentworth of Persuasion I knew that I had to watch this film for myself.
What I found was a lovely tale, simply told, that takes place all at sea (with a brief jaunt across a deserted island). A film that swells the heart with fervor for the British navy and left me repeating Louisa Musgrove's words from Persuasion (1995): "I do admire the navy. These men have more worth than any other set of men in England!"
Story: During the Napoleonic War the navy represented England in the seas. Captain Jack Aubrey runs a tight ship, but when they meet up with the French ship The Acheron in the fog they are beaten badly. Captain Aubrey decides to follow chase, but the longer they sail the more his ship and crew fall apart physically and emotionally. Will they survive as heroes or die with no one to mourn?
Music: In the dramatic opening, scenes that show what life on board shop is like, music is used sparingly and this is very well done because you also get to hear the sounds of the ship. As the film progresses more music is heard, simple and fitting the Regency era. Captain Aubrey and Doctor Maturin play the violin and cello together in the evenings, mostly classical pieces like Mozart and Bach, but they sometimes break into more folk-like music. The crew often sings sea-shanties to raise their spirits and those are such good fun and show off the actors voices. Overall the music is wonderfully period appropriate and suits each scene perfectly.
Scenes: Shows the closeness of the ship but without seeming overly crowded. Horizons at sea are gorgeous. As they sail through South America they land on a small island with rocky terrain but the views are still remarkable.
Costumes: No fine Regency costumes are needed here since most all of the film is about sailors out to sea. The sailors' uniforms are well made and fit well, down to the youngest midshipman. No spotless sailors here, their uniforms and other clothing articles get wet, sweaty, dirty, bloody and all the rest like real clothing would have.
Language: Even for sailors their language is mostly clean and there is little swearing. The worst I hear was by a sailor they picked in a rowboat he does use the F word once briefly and I probably caught it because I had the subtitles on. There might have been a couple sh--s and da--s but I can't recall. Speech is mostly Regency era appropriate and fun to hear orders and such being given and sounding in every day use.
Inappropriate Content: Sailors might have a bad reputation when on land, but even pirates of their era were expected to behave with honor and under certain rules on board ship. No women are ever on board The Surprise and no sexual content is in this film. There is some drinking shown and spirits are high due to that but nothing lewd is shown or mentioned.
Violence: Scenes of war aboard ship are shown. Exploding cannons that destroy ship and wood, attacks from enemy ship, charging another ship, fighting with swords and clubs, a sailor receives lashes, sailors are injured, one young man has to have a limb removed, other men die through injury or being lost at sea, some vomit during rough seas and one man removes a bullet from his own gut but nothing too gross is shown. Overall not a lot of blood is shown and the Captain and crew are not brutal.
Familiar Actors: Many familiar actors from BBC period dramas do a fantastic job in their roles. Several actors have played sailors in other films or portrayed other Regency era characters. These are a few I recognized:
- Russell Crowe as Captain "Lucky" Jack Aubrey - Also in Robin Hood (2010), Les Miserables (2012).
- Paul Bettany as Dr. Stephen Maturin, Surgeon - Also in David Copperfield (2000), A Knight's Tale, The Young Victoria
- James D'Arcy as 1st Lt. Tom Pullings - Also in The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby (2001), Poirot: The Mystery of the Blue Train, Marple: The Moving Finger, Mansfield Park (2007), The Making of a Lady.
- Lee Ingleby as Hollom, Midshipman - Also in Ever After, The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby (2001), Marple: Nemesis.
- Robert Pugh as Mr. Allen, Master - The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain, Marple: A Murder Is Announced, Bleak House, Poirot Cards On the Table, Lark Rise To Candleford, Robin Hood (TV series), Robin Hood (2010), Doctor Who, The Hollow Crown.
- Richard McCabe as Mr. Higgins, Surgeon's Mate - Persuasion (1995), Foyle's War (TV series), Vanity Fair (2004), Jane Eyre (2006), Cinderella (2015).
- Billy Boyd as Barrett Bonden, Coxswain - The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
"Louisa, by whom she found herself walking, burst forth into raptures of admiration and delight on the character of the navy: their friendliness, their brotherliness, their openness, their uprightness; protesting that she was convinced of sailors having more worth and warmth than any other set of men in England; that they only knew how to live, and they only deserved to be respected and loved." - Chapter 11, Persuasion by Jane Austen
My Thoughts: Jane Austen's Persuasion is one of my favorite novels and Persuasion (1995) is one of my favorite period dramas of all time and this film really fits in with that story. Master and Commander show the nobleness and adventures of naval officers during the Napoleonic war, such as those experienced by Captain Wentworth, Admiral Croft, William Price or even Jane Austen's own brothers Francis and Charles Austen. Similar to the Horatio Hornblower films but with even less violence and questionable content. Master and Commander: The Far Side Of The World is definitely a new favorite period film in the Regency era and one that I would watch side by side with Persuasion film adaptations.
Recommendations: Rated PG-13 mostly for some military violence and brief language (most barely audible). I wouldn't recommend this for younger viewers but for teenagers on up it is quite alright. If you like the Horatio Hornblower films, Persuasion adaptations, Poldark (TV series) or military films in general you will probably enjoy this film.
Have you seen Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World?
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