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In the 18th century, the only way to navigate accurately at sea was to follow a coastline all the way, which would not get you from Europe to the West Indies or the Americas. Observing the sun or stars would give you the latitude, but not the longitude unless done in conjunction with a clock that would keep time accurately at sea, and no such clock existed. After one too many maritime disasters due to navigational errors, the British Parliament set up a substantial prize for a way to find the longitude at sea. The film's main story is that of craftsman John Harrison: he built a clock that would do the job, what we would now call a marine chronometer. But the Board of Longitude was biased against this approach and claiming the prize was no simple matter. Told in parallel is the 20th century story of Rupert Gould, for whom the restoration of Harrison's clocks to working order became first a hobby, then an obsession that threatened to wreck his life. Written by
Harrison describes his clock to George Graham, and the accuracy astounds him. In reality, Harrison invented the "gridiron pendulum" (which made such accuracy possible) in 1726. However, Graham had invented the even more accurate "mercury pendulum" in 1721, so he would not have stated such accuracy "can't be done", when first meeting Harrison in 1730. See more »
Mr. Harrison! Summer and winter... how is it done? How is it done, the compensation?
I use a pendulum of different metals that work against each other.
Impossible. Doesn't work. I've tried it.
It is possible. It does work. I've built it.
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Long, but worth it! A blessed antidote to MTV's Tom Green and the rest of the scumbag-chic that passes for culture these days. Based on the brilliant history of the same name by Dava Sobel.
In the days when ships measured themselves by yardage of sail and bank of cannon, knowing your north-south latitude was easy. Finding your east-west longitude however (and keeping your ship off the reefs) was hit-and-miss. That could get you killed. The cure was to know the time in London, precisely, but keeping time accurate on a rolling ship was tougher than keeping milk fresh; pendulum clocks need stable ground, and pendulum clocks were all they had.
Queen Anne (Br., 1665-1714) had another idea: a 20,000 pound-sterling prize to anyone who had a solution. Problem was, no one expected a country carpenter cum-clockmaker to do it. John Harrison (Michael Gambon) was that carpenter, and it became *his* problem--a three-decades-long problem. It would also pose one for Rupert Gould (Jeremy Irons) two centuries later, as a marriage-busting, sanity-breaking obsession over restoring Harrison's neglected prototypes: clocks that could keep time at sea better than the quartz-timed digital you might be wearing now.
"Longitude" weaves seamlessly--almost--between the two eras, tracking the exertions and miseries of John Harrison and Rupert Gould with the same kind of synchronicity Harrison spent half his life pitching to astronomers who had scarce respect for the tinkerings of a hayseed. Michael Gambon's passionate performance as John Harrison is truly Oscar-calibre, eclipsing Irons--but only because the tunnel-visioned Rupert Gould is hardly a vehicle for the memorable. Too bad this was "only" a TV mini-series. As a theatrical release it would have lent due reknown to a scarce-remembered true epic of genius.
Watch this when you get the chance. Then go punch Tom Green in the nose.
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