On the H.M.S. Defiant, during the French Revolutionary Wars, fair Captain Crawford is locked in a battle of wills against his cruel second-in-command Lt. Scott-Paget whose heavy-handed command style pushes the crew to mutiny.
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Defiant's crew is part of a fleet-wide movement to present a petition of grievances to the Admiralty. Violence must be no part of it. The continual sadism of Defiant's first officer makes this difficult, and when the captain is disabled, the chance for violence increases. Written by
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[Scott-Padget turns back to the Captain as he begins to exit]
You may have the power of life and death over every man about this ship, sir, but I warn you: if we come through this voyage safely...
[Crawford looks up from his work]
To have followed Admiralty instructions may not be quite be enough.
[Crawford smacks his desk, jumps up and approaches Scott-Padget]
I will say this to you only once, sir: I will not be bullied or threatened and I intend to be obeyed! Your friends in London mean...
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Opening credits prologue: SPITHEAD, ENGLAND 1797 See more »
In April 1789 Captain William Bligh was set adrift off the Friendly Islands by Fletcher Christian and the crew of H.M.S. Bounty, tired of Bligh's bad temper and harsh tongue. Bligh and the loyal crew members (except two killed by cannibals on one island they stopped at) managed to sail the open boat 2,100 miles despite lack of supplies and dangerous seas and weather to safety. Bligh returned to England, and eventually made a second trip to Tahiti to complete his original mission. Christian and most of the Bounty mutineers fled on the Bounty and reached Pitcairn Island, where their descendants live to this day.
The mutiny on the Bounty is the one that most people think of whenever they hear the word "mutiny". Otherwise they think of THE CAINE MUTINY. Actually there have been many mutinies. In 1905 a mutiny on the Russian battleship Potemkin occurred at Odessa on the Black Sea. It was immortalized by Serge Eisenstein in his film of the name POTEMKIN.
It surprises many people outside of England that the Bounty was peanuts compared to the Great Mutiny of 1797 at the Nore and Spithead of the entire British fleet (also the 1931 Invergordon Mutiny of the British fleet during the depression, which was a total surprise). The Great Mutiny is supreme because it occurred just when England was facing revolutionary France in the French Revolutionary Wars. A force being planned by Wolfe Tone and the French General Lazare Hoche was to invade Ireland. By sheer chance the French were unable to take advantage of the moment of England's peril to invade.
The 1797 Mutiny at Spithead was actually successful - various gains in pay and food were made by the sailors. Then came the Nore Mutiny, which was led by a seaman of some leadership qualities named Richard Parker. Parker's demands were impossible, and he apparently toyed with leading the fleet to France. Instead the British Admiralty got tough, and crushed the mutiny. Ironically one of the last ships to give up was H.M.S. Director, which was commanded by William Bligh. It was the second mutiny (of three!) that Bligh would face in his career. Parker was tried for mutiny and executed, as were dozens of other sailors.
It would be nice if some enterprising producer would make an accurate film of the 1797 Mutiny - but until that day comes we are left with two films that roughly approximate the story. There is Peter Ustinov's BILLY BUDD, which is set in the period of the Great Mutiny, and this one. BILLY BUDD has much going for it regarding it's source material (Herman Melville's brilliant study of good and evil, and how they are impossible to separate). Then there is DAMN THE DEFIANT / H.M.S. DEFIANT, which tells the story from the point of view of a single vessel and the evils that permeated all the crew from the Captain to the tars.
Alec Guinness is a well meaning but weak leader who is the Captain of Defiant, and has been stuck with Dirk Bogarde as his new second in command, a socially well-connected sadist. Bogarde is determined to be the real commander of the ship, and is willing to do what is needed to bring Guinness and everyone in sight under heal. Guinness's son is a midshipman on the DEFIANT, and Bogarde keeps finding ways of punishing the young man that Guinness (because of fears of favoritism) will not interfere with. On top of this, during one battle, Guinness loses an arm (a salute to Lord Nelson who was similarly was crippled).
However, the men led by Anthony Quayle, decide to join the mutiny. And then it is Bogarde's turn to sweat.
What were the gripes of the mutineers? Low pay (the government spent money on bribes for votes, but not decent pay). Nothing like pensions for the men - frequently kidnapped by press gangs in the major cities - and left cripples after serving in the naval battles. Food was crap - the quartermasters and the people who sold supplies were in cahoots and sold rotten food to the ships. It was a "lovely life". The wonder is that there weren't more bloodbath mutinies. One (in 1798) on board H.M.S. Hermoine led to the murder of a dozen officers, including the Captain (one Hugh Pigott). Reading of it makes one realize how lucky Bligh and the Admirals were that they did not face the real wrath that was just under the surface.
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