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  Scott of the Antarctic Great God This Is An Awful Place
Year: 1948
Director: Charles Frend
Stars: John Mills, Diana Churchill, Harold Warrender, Anne Firth, Derek Bond, Reginald Beckwith, James Robertson Justice, Kenneth More, Norman Williams, John Gregson, James McKechnie, Barry Letts, Dennis Vance, Christopher Lee, Sam Kydd, Dandy Nichols
Genre: Historical, Adventure, BiopicBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Captain Robert Falcon Scott (John Mills) has embarked on an expedition to the Antarctic before in 1904, but he yearns to return and finally achieve what has eluded so many: to reach the South Pole. He cannot simply start out on his own, as although now, around five years later, he has plenty of men willing to accompany him it's funding he truly needs or the expedition will never take place. Nevertheless, as he takes part in a lecture tour to drum up support he begins to assemble a team around him he feels will be reliable, starting with his scientist friend Dr. E.A. Wilson (Harold Warrender)...

It was perhaps partly the fault of his film, one made by Ealing Studios' drama department, that Captain Scott ended up more famous for his South Pole excursion than the man who actually reached it before him, Roald Amundsen, and that in spite of the Norwegian getting there first. But the story of Scott's tragic journey was in its way far more cinematic than his rival - Amundsen is never even seen during the course of this film, though his shadow is cast over everything that happens, no matter that he was far more focused on actually reaching the Pole and Scott's company were more interested in the scientific side of things.

Not that Scott's party would not have loved to reach their destination first and make history, so you can imagine though they did make history it was after a fashion far less successful than they would have hoped to have done. Director Charles Frend, a reliable man for Ealing to go to for drama - his The Cruel Sea has a similar reputation to this - concentrated on that scientific element in the opening stages, making it clear there was more at stake than a race, yet then acknowledging that ended up uppermost in the Terra Nova expedition's wishes, and finally depicting their greater need to survive as the film draws to its inevitable conclusion. This does make the experience something akin to watching a very slow death.

The stoicism of those concerned as events go from bad to worse is never in doubt, and though Scott is a polarising figure - Mills himself remained unconvinced the subject of one of his most celebrated roles was anything but naive at best, a bungler at worst - the essentially harrowing nature of the situation he and his men found themselves in was shown on far firmer ground. This didn't shy away from Scott's lack of decent preparation, but didn't dwell on it either, the human cost of the loss of life that eventually occurred being more relevant to the atmosphere Frend and his production were attempting to conjure up. Not that the film itself was without flaws, as for one it could be a pretty dry presentation, and the fact that there were occasional interludes of frivolity didn't soothe that.

Then again, there's not much to laugh at when you know beforehand what was going to befall them, and that impending doom did make for a dejected mood, with the scene when Scott and Wilson's wives bid them farewell in New Zealand positively steeped in portentousness. There's also a moving shot when Scott takes four men with him to strike out for the Pole at last, and the men he leaves behind in the Antarctic wastes watch them gradually disappear into the whiteness over the horizon, or as far as they can see, as if to say take one last look, you'll never see them alive again. With a cast including James Robertson Justice as Welshman Taff Evans, which affords us a chance to see him without his beard for once, and a small role for Christopher Lee, this was filled out with examples of the famed British stiff upper lip, though by the time we reach the final act the dying men are difficult to tell from one another, and the sense of defeat weighs heavy, with Ralph Vaughan Williams' ethereal score adding to the melancholy.

[Studio Canal have released this title in their Vintage Classics Collection for a fully restored Blu-ray with a wealth of extra features: interviews with Sir Andrew Davies (on the score) and explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes, John Mills home movie footage, featurettes on Jack Cardiff's cinematography and the restoration, a stills gallery, and a booklet. Worth getting for the extras alone.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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