Damn the Defiant!

Life aboard a British warship during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars was not a pleasant experience for the crew, with rotten food, foul water and the slightest level of insubordination earning some nasty punishments.

You could get your back shredded by strokes of the cat o'nine tails, be made to walk a line of your shipmates as they belted you with ropes, get dragged under the keel of the ship and get ripped by barnacles - or just hung from the yardarm.

On board a ship the captain was the giver of life and death and his senior officers could make life very unpleasant if they had a mind to.

Some captains were big on stern discipline, others - like Admiral Horatio Nelson - took a more enlightened approach to their men's welfare.

In Damn the Defiant!, Alec Guinness plays Captain Crawford, a humane and fine officer who respects his crew and knows that harsh discipline will affect the good performance of his vessel HMS Defiant.

Unfortunately for him and the crew they take aboard a brilliant, but brutal, first officer Lieutenant Scott-Padget (Dirk Bogarde) who is determined to break the will of the men.

Neither of the senior men on board the Defiant know that a mutiny is brewing in the Royal Navy and their ship is only one of the entire British fleet that is ready to explode.

Sent away on a mission into the Mediterranean the Defiant is almost ripped apart by the conflict between the well-connected Scott-Padget and the captain.

Throw into the story some excellent action scenes involving exciting sea battles and you have an excellent evening's entertainment.

Guinness is smoothly confident as Crawford, but even he is tested by the energy and viciousness of Bogarde's Scott-Padget. Considering it is very much out of the usual character played by Bogarde he is exceptionally believable and quite the action anti-hero.

Anthony Quayle plays the leader of the mutineers and there are some nice smaller roles taken by excellent British actors, including Tom Bell as the headstrong and violent Evans.

This is an older movie and the video transfer is a bit up and down. Generally sharp, it does have rich colour, although there doesn't seem to have been a lot of cleaning up of the original negative done as there are a large number of specks and dots appearing.

There are also a number of historical inaccuracies including naming Napoleon Bonaparte, who had yet to take power when this was set, and a British ship being ordered to fire at the rigging of a French frigate when the key aim of Royal Navy captains was to blow the bellies out of their foes' vessels.

However, those little bits of pickiness aside, Damn the Defiant! is an excellent naval drama and will certainly be a welcome addition to my home library.

Conclusion: Movie 80%, Extras 45%


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