Director James Marsh sets sail on The Mercy

Colin Firth in The Mercy.
Colin Firth in The Mercy.

WHEN your 15-minute interview with an Oscar-winning director on the other side of the globe runs into a few technical glitches, it gives you an uneasy feeling, given the premise of his latest work.

The Mercy tells the story of Donald Crowhurst (Colin Firth), an amateur sailor who took part in the 1968 Sunday Times Golden Globe Race, hoping to become the first person in history to single-handedly circumnavigate the globe without stopping.

With an unfinished boat, the Teignmouth Electron, and his business and house on the line, Donald leaves his wife, Clare (Rachel Weisz) and their children behind, hesitantly embarking on his ill-considered adventure.

It gets worse, much worse. With his press agent Rodney Hallworth (David Thewlis) skilfully manipulating a narrative that makes Donald into a British cause celebre, the pressure builds and the sailor starts sending fake readings that drastically enhance his position in the race.

James Marsh’s 2008 documentary Man on Wire, about Philippe Petit’s extraordinary high-wire walk between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York, won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, among a slew of honours.

Then his Stephen Hawking biopic The Theory of Everything (2014) garnered Eddie Redmayne the Academy Award for Best Actor.

Marsh clearly has a fascination with those pushing themselves in extraordinary circumstances.

“You’re just drawn to certain stories,” he said.

“I never want to make the same story over again.

“I’ve been drawn to stories about men in particular situations and the kind of impediments on the way to what you want to achieve.

“I’m fascinated by people who want to go to an extreme.”

Marsh is more than happy working in the realm of true stories.

“The dramatic stories I’ve made have all had a basis in real life,” he said.

“It’s where I feel most comfortable.”

In a film about major challenges, a few were going on behind the scenes.

“We had to make a boat in a limited period of time,” the filmmaker said.

An accomplished British boat builder was given 12 weeks to build a replica Teignmouth Electron, likewise replicating some of the pressures felt by Crowhurst.

Realism was enhanced by doing some of the filming in Teignmouth, the seaside resort where Crowhurst sailed from.

The Mercy starts in cinemas on March 8.