In the early 1800s young Edmund Talbot travels on a not too sea-worthy ship to New South Wales to take up a post with its governor. He keeps a journal, recording his impressions of crew and passengers. He gets on well with the Captain, Anderson, an amateur botanist who grows plants in his cabin, but, due to a social gaffe, well-meaning young parson Colley falls foul of the captain, later getting drunk and having gay sex with crew members. Despite Edmund's efforts to broker an understanding he remains in his cabin, where he literally wastes away. Edmund has a sexual encounter with the comely Zenobia, travelling with her parents, but he comes to realize that they are not related at all, merely a sexual threesome. Miss Granham, travelling to take up the job of a governess, falls for the older Mr. Prettiman, whom Edmund despises as a free-thinker, though they eventually reconcile. Prettiman is badly injured in a fall and Miss Granham agrees to marry him immediately, with flowers provided ... Written by
don @ minifie-1
The three-part series ended last night on PBS, which I believe was its first wide exposure to an American audience. The richness of its text and the unique quality of its filming are high points. It seems very novel to view and hear an action play employing the vernacular of Georgian England, Jane Austen's filmed drawing rooms being the primary example of that form of speech. Yet it is the scope of drama overwhelming the senses that makes quaint language fit perfectly into each and every scene. Such bold exposure to an old reality is evocative of literary giants like Tolstoy or Shakespeare while at the same time entertaining in the manner of a C. S. Forester or Patrick O'Brian sea saga. The universality of basic human condition lies at its center.
Narrator Talbot as played by an actor with the almost perfectly appropriate name of Benedict Cumberbatch (surely not even Dickens could beat that one!) alternates between stodgy jingoism and extreme vulnerability, an acting tour de force. Indeed, I cannot recall among this very fine cast any misstep of interpretation. That is a tribute not only to the actors themselves, but to the director as well.
The most impressive element, however, is how perfectly life aboard a man-of-war en route to Australia in the early 1800's is presented. That is especially true of how the motion of the ship becomes almost a character itself, something sea stories rarely take into account except as backdrop. Anyone who has ever experienced mal de mer in person will recognize it instantly, and appreciate all the more how difficult it must have been to recreate within the context of filming.
This is no fanciful Pirates of the Caribbean. Some effort must be expended in attaining an understanding of its nuances.
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