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The Cruel Sea (film): Wikis


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The Cruel Sea

The Cruel Sea DVD cover
Directed by Charles Frend
Produced by Les Norman
Written by Nicholas Monsarrat (novel)
Eric Ambler
Starring Jack Hawkins
Donald Sinden
Denholm Elliott
Virginia McKenna
Stanley Baker
Music by Alan Rawsthorne
Distributed by General Film Distributors
Release date(s) March 1953 (1953-03)
Running time 126 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English

The Cruel Sea is a 1953 British film from Ealing Studios. It was directed by Charles Frend and starred Jack Hawkins and (in his first film) Donald Sinden, with Denholm Elliott, Stanley Baker, Virginia McKenna and Moira Lister.

It was based on the bestselling novel The Cruel Sea by Nicholas Monsarrat. It is a strikingly accurate portrayal of the war between the Royal Navy and Germany's U-Boats from the viewpoint of the British naval officers and seamen who served in escort vessels during World War II, although the screenplay by Eric Ambler omitted some of Monsarrat's grimmest images.

No concessions were made to the American audience, unlike (for example) The Enemy Below. This lower circulation novel on the same theme by a different author was turned into an almost equally popular film, with the British commander transformed into an American, played by Robert Mitchum.



The action commences in the early months of World War II, before the Battle of the Atlantic becomes the brutal struggle it would later be. Lieutenant Commander George Ericson (Hawkins), after service in the British Merchant Navy, is recalled to the Royal Navy and given command of HMS Compass Rose, a newly-built Flower-class corvette intended for convoy escort duties. As in the book, his officers are mostly newly-commissioned and without experience at sea.

Despite these initial disadvantages, the ship's company gains hard experience and becomes an effective fighting unit. The junior officers mature and the crew cross the Atlantic many times, escorting convoys, often in brutal weather, during the course of which they witness the sinking of many merchant vessels they are charged with protecting and the tragic deaths for the civilian crewmen. After close to three years of service, including one U-Boat sunk, the Compass Rose is herself torpedoed and her men forced to abandon ship. Ericson survives this ordeal along with his First Lieutenant, Lockhart (Sinden), although most of the crew do not.

Together with his now-promoted "number one", Ericson takes command of a new ship, HMS Saltash Castle a new frigate (though in the film the frigate was portrayed by a Castle-class corvette), and they continue the monotonous, but vital, duty of convoy escort. Late in the war, they sink another German submarine, Saltash Castle's only 'kill'. As the war ends, the ship is shown returning to port, as a guard to several German submarines that have surrendered. With the exhaustion brought on by so many years of almost endless seagoing struggle, Ericson concedes at the film's end that the only victor is the "Cruel Sea".

The novel

Monsarrat drew on his own wartime experience as an Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR) escort vessel officer in the writing of his novel. The film captures most of the plot of the story, including the constant danger, the privation, the boredom, the grim humour of the sailors in time of war, and the women who are left behind. Filmed only six years after the end of the war, The Cruel Sea does not give all of the detail of the book - to give just one example, Monsarrat's account of a chain of grinning skeletons floating in their roped-together life jackets - but Eric Ambler's screenplay, the actors' portrayals, and Charles Frend's direction convey the atmosphere of the book.

The ships

Compass Rose on location

Compass Rose was portrayed by the Flower-class corvette HMS Coreopsis (K32), which had been loaned to the Hellenic Navy and re-named Kriezis. "The Admiralty, while anxious to co-operate in the making of the film, had got rid of all its wartime corvettes ... Eventually one was located in Malta by one of the film's Technical Advisers, Capt. Jack Broome DSC RN (who had been escort commander of the ill-fated Convoy PQ 17) - the Coreopsis of the Flower Class - which had been loaned to the Greek navy and was now awaiting a tow back to England and the breaker's yard."[1]

Saltash Castle was portrayed by Castle-class HMS Portchester Castle (pennant F362, as in the film).

See also


Further reading

George Perry, Forever Ealing: A history of Ealing Studios from its origins in 1902 (1981), Pavilion

External links

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