In April 1805 during the Napoleonic Wars, the H.M.S. Surprise, a British frigate, is under the command of Captain Jack Aubrey. Aubrey and the Surprise's current orders are to track and capture or destroy a French privateer named Acheron. The Acheron is currently in the Atlantic off South America headed toward the Pacific in order to extend Napoleon's reach of the wars. This task will be a difficult one as Aubrey quickly learns in an initial battle with the Acheron that it is a bigger and faster ship than the Surprise, which puts the Surprise at a disadvantage. Aubrey's single-mindedness in this seemingly impossible pursuit puts him at odds with the Surprise's doctor and naturalist, Stephen Maturin, who is also Aubrey's most trusted advisor on board and closest friend. Facing other internal obstacles which have resulted in what they consider a string of bad luck, Aubrey ultimately uses Maturin's scientific exploits to figure out a way to achieve his and the ship's seemingly impossible ... Written by
The original HMS Rose (the replica of which became the HMS Surprise for the film) was actually a French ship, captured by the British in 1757. When it was in dry dock in Hull, England, it was modified along British lines and saw action under the British during the American Revolution. It was scuttled in 1779. The replica, based on the same plans as the original which were housed at the Admiralty in Whitehall, London, was built in Nova Scotia in 1970 by Rhode Island historian John Fitzhugh Millar. It was the only remaining working frigate in the world when Peter Weir came across it at a maritime festival. When he learned that it was for sale, Weir concluded that he was fated to make "Master and Commander" after all, a project he had previously turned down. See more »
The film is set in 1805, yet the book handed to Blakeney by the Captain was actually written in 1806: The Victories of the Right Honourable Horatio Lord Viscount Nelson, by Archibald Duncan. See more »
Few films manage to capture the era in which the original work was set and often rely on clichés of the particular genre at the expense of the core story. This film manages to avoid these pitfalls but more importantly serves as a worthwhile historical document. Anyone who is new to this period of history will not go far wrong keeping a copy of this movie as the attention to detail is excellent and adds to the experience as a whole (teachers take note).
This movie manages to tread a fine line between gritty realism and Boy's Own, portraying the pursuit of an elite French warship by an older embattled British frigate. The production values are very high and the dialogue and length allow the director a better than average framework for character development. The predominantly unknown British supporting cast (some aged as young as 12) are expertly handled and provide a counter balance to the excellent performances of Crowe and Bettany. Crowe's delivery is very reminiscent of Richard Burton, exuding a measured screen presence without overpowering the dialogue.
It would have been easy for the director to read through the salty notes of previous period pieces and deliver the usual tale of ocean going brutality and scurvy encrusted woe but Peter Weir's version of order through respect and camaraderie is far more believable especially when you realize that the sailor's greatest enemy was the ocean itself.
I found little to dislike and much to admire. Highly recommended.
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