Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003) – Peter Weir

Based on the series of books by Patrick O’Brian, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World is the final recommendation from the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book following my screening of The Pirates of the Caribbean.

I’ve only read a few of the books, but love them, and they are hailed as one of the most authentic recreations of sailing life in the British Fleet during the 1800s.

Russell Crowe plays Captain Jack Aubrey. He commands the H.M.S. Surprise, while Paul Bettany brings Aubrey’s friend, ship’s surgeon, and naturalist, Stephen Maturin, to life. The Surprise is tasked with orders, as she sails along the northern coast of South America, with the pursuit of chasing, engaging, and either sinking or capturing the French vessel, the Acheron.

Aubrey is a sharp and wise captain, as he and the French captain begin a look cat and mouse game on the high seas. His crew is loyal, determined, and surprisingly young… another revelation of life at sea.

Weir’s film brings O’Brian’s novels vividly to life, and both Crowe and Bettany seem at home on the quarterdeck of the sailing ship, in fact, I quite like both performances.  James D’Arcy and Billy Boyd can be spotted amongst the crew, but this is very much Crowe’s and Bettany’s film, and they own their roles brilliantly.


The characters aren’t quite as written on the page, but they are familiar. They use Bettany’s character as an everyman, he asks the questions that the viewer has about terms, and ideas.

The film brings all of it to life brilliantly, from the harsh surgical conditions, to the operations of the day to day life of the Surprise. I love the way Surprise it brought to life on the screen, Weir directs and creates ably, and I wish that the film had earned a sequel, as I would have loved to see O’Brian’s nautical world further explored in cinematic terms.

The cinematography is beautiful, shots of Aubrey and Maturin practising violin and bass into the darkness, the light from the captain’s cabin illuminating Surprise’s hull; shots of the ship lonely amongst the waves, or tossed in a storm; running out the guns to take on the Acheron.

This film is a joy for me, watching the way things were, with beautiful tall ships navigating the globe, fighting to surmount distances and destinations we take for granted.

The film combines practical and computer generated effects, and it does it well, and it is very hard not to become involved in the world that is presented on screen.

I remember when this one first came out, and I would play it all the time in the store while I was working. I enjoyed the music, and love the dialogue.

I love a film with a solid story, great actors, and a tall ship or two…

Russell Crowe as he appears in MASTER AND COMMANDER: THE FAR SIDE OF THE WORLD, 2003.

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