Sir Alec Guinness (in fine, reserved form) is the humane but strict commander of the title British warship during the Napoleonic wars (in the late 18th century), who in his mission to deliver his ship to meet the rest of the British fleet in their battle against the French, must contend with a disreputable and unreasonably brutal first mate (Dirk Bogarde), fond of harsh disciplinary measures and generally ignoring Guinness’ orders (Bogarde’s also got political connections which he is fond of bragging about). Meanwhile, the disgruntled crew bide their time before they (led by Sir Anthony Quayle) can make their move in exposing the harsh conditions aboard (Guinness understands their concerns but cannot be seen to tolerate any sort of mutinous action, especially when it interferes with his orders). Two things complicate matters even further; 1) Guinness’ 12 year-old son David Robinson is on board on his maiden voyage, which the petty Bogarde is only too happy to use as leverage over Guinness, having the boy unfairly punished. Guinness had promised not to treat his son any differently to the rest of the crew. 2) Guinness is badly injured during a skirmish with the French, and Bogarde sees fit to take command.
Although Guinness and Bogarde themselves weren’t too fussed on the film (Guinness filmed his scenes during a break from filming “Lawrence of Arabia”), this 1962 Lewis Gilbert (“Alfie”, “You Only Live Twice”) film is a solid, if unoriginal film, with some great acting. Well, from two of the cast anyway, two top-notch lead performances by a nicely understated Guinness and a brilliantly rotten Bogarde (perhaps cast against type). The fine supporting cast isn’t given much to do (aside from the always solid Quayle), and this isn’t anything you haven’t seen before or since, but with two of British cinema’s finest at the...erm...helm, and an entertaining (if familiar) story, how can you possibly complain?
Excellent action scenes, and seemingly realistic production values, are a major selling point. The screenplay is by Nigel Kneale (Best known for “The Quatermass” films and also working on the screen adaptation of “The Entertainer”) and Edmund North (Oscar-winner for “Patton”, and the writer of “The Day the Earth Stood Still”), from the novel “Mutiny” by Frank Tilsley. Terrific colour cinematography by Christopher Challis (“The Red Shoes”, “Arabesque”, “The Deep”) is also a standout.