Mutiny on the Defiant
For those who are into maritime history "H.M.S. Defiant", also known as "Damn the Defiant", will most likely be of interest with a drama built around the Nore and Spithead mutiny of 1797. But "H.M.S. Defiant" is not just a movie for history fans as it is also a well worked mutiny movie with some nice twists and performances which keep things interesting. But it also features some authentic looking sea action as we watch sail ships do battle with director Lewis Gilbert really going for authenticity when it comes to the sea battles.
Assigned command of the H.M.S. Defiant, Captain Crawford (Alec Guinness - The Bridge on the River Kwai) is given orders to sail to Corsica to rendezvous with the British fleet as the Napoleonic War rages on. Accompanying him for the first time is his son Harvey (David Robinson) who is a trainee midshipman and as Crawford says must be treated like any other boy aboard the ship. The trouble is that whilst Crawford is a fair Captain his 2nd in command Lt. Scott-Padget (Dirk Bogarde - The Singer Not the Song) is a cruel and sadistic officer who rules by dishing out beatings and floggings and he is hungry for power having already used his connections at London and his evil manipulative skills to usurp previous superiors. But whilst Crawford has to deal with Scott-Padget who uses his son to get at him there is all the men of the ship who are a part of a fleet wide plan to stage a mutiny in order to get their freedom after being press ganged and treated harshly.
What for me makes "H.M.S. Defiant" so interesting is not the men who are planning to take control of the ship in order to petition for their freedom but the dynamic between Crawford and Scott-Padget. It is this battle of minds for authority which dominates the first half as whilst we are made aware of the men lead by Vizard in preparations to take control, something which Crawford spots, this mutiny aspect only really comes to play in the second half. And whilst I am no expert on mutiny movies it plays out in a not too surprising manner as like with issues between Crawford and Scott-Padget Vizard has issues with his 2nd in command Evans plus we have an element of respect between Vizard and Crawford.
So back to the main focus which is the battle for power between Crawford and Scott-Padget well I suppose there are no big surprises. When Crawford refuses to be threatened and bullied by Scott-Padget when he mentions his connections we see him turn his attention to Harvey Crawford and having him punished every day in order to force a response from his father. But whilst not a huge surprise how this plays out it is an entertaining power struggle with Dirk Bogarde doing a brilliant job of making Padget a ruthless, sadistic man who you can see hates not getting his way or being humiliated and enjoys watching men getting flogged.
But whilst Bogarde does a great job of making Padget ruthless it is Alec Guinness as Captain Crawford who really captures your attention as he goes from fair leader of men, to be ruthless when in battle with Padget and then conflicted and helpless when Padget uses young Crawford as a tool. It is a superior performance from Guinness quite remarkable considering "H.M.S. Defiant" was made during a break in the filming of "Lawrence of Arabia". That superior performance is aided by a good supporting cast with Anthony Quayle delivering the equivalent fairness as Vizard doing a nice job of highlighting the mutual respect between men. And for fans of "Coronation Street" that is Johnny Briggs who we see on the end of a flogging quite early on in the movie.
What this all boils down to is that "H.M.S. Defiant" is a pleasantly entertaining mutiny movie which takes its basis from the history books. But for me what makes it interesting is the power struggle between Captain Crawford and 2nd in command Lt. Scott-Padget with the actual men leading a mutiny almost seeming quite ordinary.