HMS Surprise, 120ft square-rigged frigate, 28 guns, 197 souls, coast of Brazil, April 1805. So we are thrown into Australian director Peter Weir’s latest project, a boys own adventure on the high seas during the Napoleonic Wars with Captain Lucky Jack Aubrey and Dr Stephen Maturin.
Many will no doubt be familiar with the Patrick O’Brian Aubrey/Maturin naval adventure novel series. O’Brian, who died in 2000, was an accomplished author, translator from French into English and biographer of Sir Joseph Banks and Picasso. He was most well known for his scholarship, erudition and keen psychological insights into the British Navy during the Napoleonic Wars, hence his series of adventure novels. Far Side Of The WorldÂ is the 10th book in the series.
Peter Weir is nearly 60 and is one of Australia’s most seasoned and successful directors. He first came to prominence with the surreal Cars That Ate Paris (1974) and quickly followed it up with seminal films including Picnic At Hanging Rock (1975), The Last Wave (1977) and Gallipoli (1981). Weir then left for Hollywood and directed Witness (1985). He has directed four features since then and received three Oscar nominations for Best Director. His last film was The Truman Show (1998). For Master And Commander, Weir re-unites with another veteran, Australian cinematographer Russell Boyd, who first worked with Weir on Picnic At Hanging Rock.
Master And CommanderÂ is an old fashioned epic; tiny boat takes on a superior adversary whilst enduring outrageous conditions and wild seas. There are no women in the film and no dandies either, although the key aspect of the O’Brian series is the friendship between Captain Lucky Jack Aubrey, brilliant seaman, genius warrior, exuberant connoisseur of bad jokes, and Dr Stephen Maturin, pragmatic surgeon and naturalist. Both are especially united by music and their mutual love of the violin and cello. Male bonding of this scale hasn’t been seen on the big screen for a while.
Russell Crowe plays Aubrey to a tee: a no-holds-barred naval veteran in love with his boat and the sea. There are no delicate Hornblower-esque sensibilities here, just pure masculinity, and Crowe is in his element hanging off the back of the boat and climbing the rigging. Paul Bettany, a long-time Lars Von Trier collaborator, is a perfect foil as the gentler Maturin. The rest of the cast is filled with a range of experienced and first-time actors chosen from across the globe largely for their 19th century faces. Billy Boyd, Pippin in Lord Of The Rings, plays the coxswain.
Weir has shown an incredible attention to detail and historical realism to create the floating universe that was Nelson’s navy 200 years ago. Ably supported by many Australians in all facets of the film and the LOTR special effects house Weta Workshop, Master And CommanderÂ is a heave-ho me hearties big screen experience, pure entertainment for fans of O’Brian and historical epics alike.