This fictionalized story of a mutiny on HMS Defiant, commanded by a captain burdened with a vicious first lieutenant, is worth seeing if you like nautical fiction in general, or are a lover of novels by Patrick O'Brian or C.S. Forester. It is not easy watching, although there is no deliberate crudity (this is an old film for one thing). The story begins prosaically enough with the Defiant setting off under the command of a man who has just brought his son in as a midshipman (a typical way for a son to follow his father into the navy; Nelson began by following a maternal uncle into the navy, albeit on another ship). We learn quickly enough that this voyage will not quite be what is intended. The first officer, played brilliantly by Dirk Bogarde, is a vicious but very well-connected man, who punishes harshly for the slightest offense (even an unintended one). The crew are on the point of mutiny, in what is intended to be a concerted action with the rest of the Mediterranean Fleet and the ships in British ports. A few sailors are reluctant to join the planned mutiny, but they are persuaded to join thanks to the harshness of the lieutenant and the lack of action taken by the captain. Is the captain weak? Not really. His choices are limited firstly by the system (whereby powerful enemies can ruin even a captain's career) and secondly by the fact that his son is made a pawn in a vicious game. Things take an unexpected turn, firstly when the captain gets his son off on a prize crew (a small crew commanding a captured enemy vessel, civilian or otherwise) and thus wrests back control from his first lieutenant; and secondly, when the captain is seriously injured. The denouement comes rapidly. The crew mutinies, driven to desperation - but they must make a crucial choice when the French fleet comes out unexpectedly with fire ships (ships set aflame deliberately) and attacks the British ships still at anchor. Will the crew agree to let the captain take command back and fight off the French ships? Or will the crew choose to murder all the officers (or the most hated ones, at any rate) and take the ship where they will? Watch the film for the dramatic if slightly unrealistic conclusion. This film is particularly recommended for an unflinching portrayal of the harshness of naval discipline (with back-breaking lashes for even the slightest gesture of insubordination or resistance) and for the realistic portrayal of naval actions. The principal roles are played by Alec Guinness (the captain) and Dirk Bogarde (the first lieutenant). The film, incidentally, was directed by John Brabourne (7th Baron Brabourne), a son-in-law of Admiral The Earl Mountbatten of Burma. The DVD appears to have no special features, and the sound and picture quality is said to be only average. I wish that a special edition widescreen DVD was available with documentaries about the naval aspects of the Napoleonic wars, the British navy in the late 1700s, and finally, some information about the great naval mutinies at Spitshead and Nore. For someone like me, who is just beginning to be fascinated by nautical fiction, this was a great film, better than even the Hornblower series and film (good as they are). If you are reading nautical fiction set in this era, this film is strongly recommended. There is no particular amazing feat of seamanship, merely a realistic depiction of hard choices made by men facing almost impossible consequences.
7 people found this helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?
This is a fine story of life aboard a British naval vessel during the Napoleonic wars. Alec Guiness stars as the enlightened and thoughtful captain, Dirk Bogarde is the cruel and hard first lieutenant (executive officer). The two are locked in a battle of wills and leadership concerning the means by which the ship will be commanded. The captain believes that a happy ship is an efficient ship, and seeks to lead by inspiration. The first lieutenant believes in merciless discipline, reinforced with his sadistic love of inflicting punishment. This conflict is complicated by the fact that the men of the British fleet are plotting the famous Spithead mutinies, and the first lieutenant has influential friends in London. This is a very interesting story of leadership and conflict. The storyline moves along smartly most of the time, and the acting is quite good. The special effects are very good--no "bathtub ships" or battles. Guiness does his customary excellent job in his role as captain, although I personally thought he might have exerted more personal force than he did; his leadership style as portrayed in the film is somewhat understated. Bogarde is excellent as the villainous first lieutenant--you'll hate him by the end of the movie. This is a fine movie worth watching more than once.
Damn the Defiant is the story of a fictional ship but the underlying theme, of a mutiney in the British Fleet is all too true. This is the mutiney of 1797 which paralyzed the British Fleet and if Napoleon had known it, might have changed history. Bogarde and Guinness are outstanding in the large cast of charecters, but the presence of Anthony Quayle is another critical part. There are two conflicts going on that are well told. The conflict between a competent and caring capatin of the ship, Guinness and a sadistic but compent second in command, Bogarde. There is also the story of the lower deck, Quayle et al, vs. the officers. It is a study in the problems of command where Guinness knows of Bogarde's faults but discipline requires that he give him his support. Bogarde also uses the Captain's dedication to duty against him by abusing the son of the captain. He does it within the letter of regulations but actually is showing the captain his limits of power. Guinness can't intervene without weakening the discipline of the ship and Bogarde knows this. The ship's surgeon has served under the Bogarde charecter in the past and in each case, the captain of the ship has never gone back to sea after Bogarde is done with them. Bogarde's bullying toady ultimately strikes the spark that sets off a mutiney. This movie is interesting and useful on several levels; Naval fiction and history and also the study of leadership. Anyone with interests in these areas would be well served to view this movie, several times. An all-star ensemble cast that makes this film extremely believeable. I highly recommend it.
The movie presents a side of Napoleanic British Royal Navy life I have seldom seen in film. Lashings are common enough in sailing films, but the use of corporal punishment, press gangs, and poor shipboard life and the like reveal a picture of life in the Royal Navy in the early 1800s less often shown. As for the movie...while a a good and decent ship's captain (played by Alec Guinness) prepares for sea, we learn that his young son will ship out with him as a new midshipman. In the meantime navy pressgangs are out on the streets rounding up men to be pressed into service in the navy. Involved in rounding up men for the crew is a new first officer (Dirk Bogard). The story centers around conflict between the good and fair captain and his devious and conniving first officer. Caught in the middle of them is the young, innocent midshipman son of the captain. A supporting plot involves a plan by the sailors to seek for improved conditions...and there is, of course, the war. One thing leads to another, and the captain is wounded in battle. While the captain is bedridden the now outwardly abusive first officer takes over and runs roughshod over the crew and the ship. I enjoy this film for it's fine efforts toward historical accuracy. The character development is excellent, and you can feel the strain on the captain as he stands by and is helpless to remove his son out from under the thumb of the 1st officer. An excellent yarn of life at sea. Guinness is, as always, outstanding. Top notch! Top marks! 5 stars.