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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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Longitude is an example of the very best in television drama. Based on a true story, meticulously acted and directed, this is the type of movie that the British do better than anyone else in the world.
The performances of the two principals, Michael Gambon and Jeremy Irons were awe inspiring, the excellent supporting cast did not let them down.
What on the surface sounds like a dry story - the search for a means of accurately determining longitude at sea - and the obsession many years later of a returned WW1 soldier with locating and restoring the devices invented for that purpose - was turned into a genuine cliffhanger by the producers. Initially I found the switching from one story to another somewhat disconcerting, but it was done so well that it soon felt quite comfortable.
This is the story of one man's lifelong trial and error search to perfect his devices and to win the prize offered for the solution to the longitude problem. Against all odds and at great damage to his health he and his son eventually succeeded. Interspersed with this is the story of another man centuries later who was determined to locate & restore the devices and to ensure their preservation for future generations.
I can really recommend this show to anyone with an enquiring mind, who enjoys a fascinating story, excellently told.
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