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The Whale (2013)

TV Movie  -   -  Drama  -  22 December 2013 (UK)
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Elderly Tom Nickerson recalls how, in 1819, he went to sea as cabin boy on the whaler 'The Essex', leaving Nantucket. Its recently promoted captain George Pollard is a kindly man, unlike ... See full summary »



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Title: The Whale (TV Movie 2013)

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Credited cast:
Jolyon Coy ...
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Andre Agius ...
Essex Crew
Essex Crew
Macram Borg ...
Essex Crew
Stephen Buhagiar ...
Essex Crew


Elderly Tom Nickerson recalls how, in 1819, he went to sea as cabin boy on the whaler 'The Essex', leaving Nantucket. Its recently promoted captain George Pollard is a kindly man, unlike first mate Owen Chase and Tom notes their mutual animosity though, inspired by tales from his grandfather, envisages life at sea as romantic. A storm and a food shortage puncture his illusions but spirits are raised when a whale is sighted and caught. However some two months later another whale attacks and sinks the ship - in what Tom believes to be an act of revenge - and the crew take to the long-boats. Chase overrules Pollard in deciding that, rather than risk cannibals on the nearby Society Islands, they make the gruelling 2,000 mile journey to Peru. Ninety days later only five of the crew are rescued, the others either dead or never found. An end-title relates what happened to Tom, Pollard and Chase in later life. Written by don @ minifie-1

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22 December 2013 (UK)  »

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The crew are adrift for 89 days yet nobody's hair or beards grow. See more »

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User Reviews

A fairly by-the-numbers "Sunday night" event drama from the BBC
11 June 2014 | by (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

The Whale is the story of a ship that sinks after it is attacked by a whale – supposedly acting in revenge; it is the true story that inspired the writing of Moby Dick and it was a BBC production that went out around the Christmas period in 2013. I mention this last thing because it is important to know this going in because when it comes to historical dramas, the Christmas schedule is rather like one long Sunday night – mostly things are non-challenging and when they are dramas they tend to be not too subtle, and when they are costume pieces then they tend to wear that on their sleeves (so to speak).

With The Whale there is certainly the sense of a drama where we have a solid meat and potatoes historical epic but it knows it is this. As a result we get a product that is so focused on being what it says on the tin that it really doesn't do much else. It delivers the basic elements of the story in a practical sense but does so without too much flair. There are some visual devices (such as the blood on the water) but generally it is a surprisingly straight telling and I found myself unmoved by the plight and the events. Odd the film seems to take longer at the start than at the end – the life boat period goes by too quickly, with only a short amount of time in the boat. Likewise the whale of the title is limited in its time on screen.

It probably didn't help that a day or so before I watched this, I saw Life of Pi and Blackfish, so life boat sequences and the suffering of whales were both in my mind. Anyway, the cast are given chunky but obvious dialogue to deliver and most manage it just fine. Sheen is placed front and centre, stuck in some nice facial hair additions and left to simply be Martin Sheen, this proving this is a quality film, right? His narration is as dry as the sailor's lips though – telling his best moment is one where he is silent when they cut to him. The rest of the cast are solid despite having mostly nautical clichés to deliver – not helped by the scenario being familiar to the viewer. Armstrong, Rayner, Furness, Gyasi, Boyega and others are all decent enough. The film looks good and the effects are technically good even if they do look like a really well render shape, rather than a real whale. Sets, costumes and the like are all fine – but it never doesn't feel like a BBC Sunday night.

It is worth a look if you are in an undemanding mood, but it is workmanlike fare without too much flair or substance outside of all the material you already know will be in there.

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