I never get tired of watching this superb film from Ealing Studios. Directed by Charles Frend, the film is all about the ill fated 1912, Terra Nova, British Polar expedition . It is a finely crafted film based on testimony from the expedition survivors, and from the diaries and letters of Scott and his team.
The tragic loss of Scott, Evans, Wilson, Oates and Bowers made these men legends here in Britain; Scott was regarded as a real hero, and it was only much later that news of several mistakes and perceived bad planning were made public. I have always saw it that they just faced bad luck from the start, and although pretty much well prepared in many things, they were not so in others (ponys instead of dogs, too few men on the final trek)and they didn’t stand a chance against the weather. The quiet courage with which they faced their deaths is admirable.
Shot in Technicolor by Jack Cardiff, this film is truly gorgeous to look at; as we are shown the beauty, mystery and danger of the South Pole. Featuring real footage from the Arctic and Norway adds a realistic look to the film.
The rest of the film was shot in the studio. Some very well designed sets really do give the impression that the actors are out on location. Vaughn Williams wailing score adds a great deal to the film, it at times sounds like a bitter icy wind, and has an eerie, mysterious sound in places. Once heard this score is one that is very hard to forget.
John Mills is at his best as Captain Robert Falcon Scott, fascinated by the Pole and desperate to reach it before the Norwegians. He portrays him as an extremely driven man, loyal to his friends, devoted to his wife, but unable to shake his deep interest for the Arctic. Mills bears quite a resemblance to the real man which helps greatly.
The rest of the cast are equally superb, and it’s very interesting to spot many actors here who would go on to become stars themselves: Christopher Lee, Kenneth More, James Robertson Justice and John Gregson.
I like Harald Warrender the most as Scott’s close friend Dr. William Wilson. Wilson knows that despite Scott’s promise to him that they are on a purely scientific expedition; his friends real goal is to actually reach the Pole first, Wilson accepts this though as he knows for Scott to be acting otherwise would be against his nature. Warrender’s performance is all in the eyes and in his expressions, he steals all his scenes with just a look.
Diana Churchill and Anne Firth play the wives of Scott and Wilson. These two actresses are not in the film for very long, but they both make quite an impression. Kathleen Scott feels fear for her husband, but completely understands the passion that drives him; if she begged him not to go she knows that he would be hurt and she would feel guilty for stopping him doing what he wished. I love the scene where she says it’s fine for him to go and he kisses her hand and looks so tenderly at her. Scott is grateful to her, but he also knows how difficult it must be for her inside.
Oriana Wilson on the other hand doesn’t want her husband to go at any cost, she too understand his passion to for the arctic but can’t bear for him to leave. Oriana can’t hide her fears as Kathleen can. I love the scene where Scott asks Wilson to join him and he ask Oriana to give her permission for her husband to go; she does so after much hesitation and Scott looks at her knowing full well her heart has broken.
Mills and Firth are both excellent in that subtle, but very powerful scene. These scenes make me think how difficult it is for those left at home when a loved one goes off to do something risky.
I consider this to be one of the best films my country has ever made, and it’s one that has lost none of its power to leave audiences open mouthed as they watch this on screen.
If you’ve never seen it I highly recommend it, make sure to see the restored version on Blu-ray as it looks stunning. If you’re a fan, then please share your thoughts below.