Master and Commander: Far Side of the World (2003)




Director:     Peter Weir. 

Starring:     Russell Crowe (Capt. Jack Aubrey),  Paul Bettany (Dr. Stephen Maturin, Surgeon),  James D'Arcy (1st Lt. Tom Pullings),  Edward Woodall (2nd Lt. William Mowett),  Chris Larkin (Capt. Howard, Royal Marines),  Max Pirkis (Blakeney, Midshipman),  Jack Randall (Boyle, Midshipman),  Max Benitz (Calamy, Midshipman),  Lee Ingleby (Hollom, Midshipman). 

English naval ship against a more powerful and faster French ship during the Napoleonic Wars, 1805


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

April 1805.  Napoleon is master of Europe.  Only the British fleet stands before him.  The oceans are now battlefields. 

H.M.S. Surprise with 28 guns, 197 crew.  North coast of Brazil. 

Admiralty Orders.  To Cpt. J. Aubrey.  "Intercept French privateer Acheron en route to the Pacific intent on carrying the war into those waters.  Sink, burn or take her as a prize."

The English ship is on the look-out for the French ship.  A crewman named Slade thinks he heard the sound of a bell in the distance.  Midshipman Hollom is the officer of the watch.  He keeps looking through his telescope trying to see a ship through the thick fog.  Midshipman Peter sees that Hollom can't make a decision to alert the crew and so takes it upon himself to give the order to beat to quarters.  Cpt. Jack Aubrey comes forward to take a look through the telescope.  He's not sure either.  All of a sudden the English ship is fired upon by the French ship emerging from the fog.  Aubrey orders the sharp shooters to the top.  He tells Boyle to run up the colors.  The French ship does a lot of damage to the English ship before the latter gets in return shots.  The English ship's rudder has been crippled and the ship is going nowhere. Many times the English cannon balls bounce off the French ship. Cpt. Aubrey is knocked down and it takes him a while to get his wits about him. 

Earlier the captain had send out men in boats in case of a need for the ship to be rowed to get it moving.  As Cpt. Aubrey recovers, he gives the order to row the ship into the fog bank. The small boats with the rowers go into action and pull the ship into the fog.  The ship is shot up with lots of damage.  There is still two feet and six inches of water at the ship's bottom.  The crew suffered nine dead and twenty-seven wounded.  The very young midshipman Blakeney has a broken forearm.   What amazes Aubrey is that after seven weeks of sailing, the French knew where they were.  One possibility is French espionage. 

Speaking to the officers, Aubrey says whatever the case, they were soundly beaten by the French ship.  Nevertheless, he says, they are not going home.  They are going after the French ship.  Many of the officers are astounded, saying that the other ship is way beyond their class of ship.  The French ship is one of 44 guns compared to the 28  guns of the English ship.  This logic doesn't affect Aubrey. 

Blakeney has his right forearm amputated.  While recovering, Aubrey gives him a book on Admiral Nelson, British naval hero of the Napoleonic wars.  Aubrey says he served with Nelson at the Battle of the Nile. 

At a stopover the natives come out to trade with the English sailors.  The Surprise heads around Cape Horn and has to fight through heavy winds, high waves and bad rain storms.  They turn around and head for the Galapagos Islands off of Ecuador.  Aubrey says the whalers gather there, so the French ship, seeing easy pickings, will be there too.  Dr. Stephen Maturin definitely wants to stop at the Galapagos to check on the very different animals found only on those islands.  All of a sudden, Aubrey gets a whiff of the French ship and tells Stephen that they are not going to stop.  Stephen says that Aubrey promised him they could stop.  The captain gets very mad at the doctor and shouts:  "We do not have time for your damn hobbies, sir."

The ship runs into a terrible storm.  A crewman named Warley is caught by himself trying to roll up the upper sail.  They have to get another man up there to help him.  Hollom starts to go up, but on the ascent he freezes with fear.  Then the entire mast and canvas fall off carrying Warley into the ocean.  Warley is told to swim to the mast and hang on and they can pull the mast in.  Warley starts swimming hard, but Aubrey is notified that the mast and canvas are acting like an anchor and are threatening to sink the ship.  Aubrey goes over and cuts the ropes connecting the ship to the mast and canvas.  This means that Warley is now stranded and abandoned to the sea. 

Warley was very popular and the crew are mad at Hollom for failing to save him.  An older sailor starts calling Hollom a Jonah (a jinx).  This spreads throughout the crew members. Hollom now hears people whispering about him.  The crew starts just silently staring at Hollom.  The sailors say that Hollom has been cursed.  Aubrey says the men cannot abide a Jonah in their midst.  The old man tells the other sailors that every time that Hollom is on watch, the ghost ship appears.  Hollom also gets the blame for the lack of winds that have kept them in one place. 

Aubrey has the gun crews practice until they improve the time it takes them to get the guns ready to fire.  There is no wind now and Hollom gets blamed for it. One sailor deliberately bumps Hollom who says nothing.  Aubrey saw this, however, and he has the man arrested and later lashed.  The captain also speaks to Hollom who apologizes and promises that he will get tougher with the men.     

This Jonah thing throws Hollom into a great depression.  One night he picks up a cannon ball and jumps with it into the sea to commit suicide.  The next day a service is held for Hollom.  Aubrey says that he asks forgiveness from God for all those who spoke badly of Hollom.  But as soon as the service is over, the wind picks up. 

A huge bird, probably an albatross, sails around the ship.  A marine wants to shoot the bird and trains his sights on it.  The bird starts to dip low and close to the ship's railing.  The marine shoots, but instead of hitting the bird, it hits the doctor and naturalist Stephen in the left side.  The doctor himself with the help of a very nervous assistant gets the bullet out.  He gives a sigh of relief when he pulls the bullet out, saying:  "Thank God, I got it."     

Earlier Aubrey told Stephen that he could not afford to stop at the Galapagos, because he has to get that French ship.  Stephen was really disappointed and furious with Aubrey.  But now after the doctor was shot, Aubrey stops at the Galapagos Islands.  He tells the doctor that they will stay here for a week.  When Stephen gets better he takes Blakeney and a crewman with him to walk over one of the islands in the group of islands.  They see a lot of unusual animals.  And they also collect quite a few animals and put them in cages.  They walk across the entire island.  Stephen goes to the edge of the cliff overlooking the beach and sees the French ship there.  The three explorers drop all their cages and then open them to let the animals out.  They then go back to tell the captain.  (Stephen has to go back by piggyback ride most of the way because his side wound acts up.)

The Acheron is out of their class, so Aubrey decides to disguise his ship as a whaler.  The French ship takes the bait and comes after them.  They come alongside the Surprise and Aubrey gives the order to fight.  The gunners open up on the French ship doing considerable damage to it.  The main mast of the Acheron falls over.  The marines open up with rifle fire on the French crew from the top.  Grappling hooks are thrown over to the French ship to bring the two ships closer together.  The English crew starts boarding the French ship.  It looks like the crew has been completely devastated, but suddenly a lot of the French sailors laying on the deck jump up and start firing and slashing at the English sailors. 

The English win the day, but Captain Aubrey gets stabbed by a sailor in hiding.  Aubrey asks the man where is the French captain and he says down below.  The English captain lets him go.  Aubrey goes down to the ad-hoc hospital and the doctor says he did everything he could to save the French captain, but he died on the operating table.  Aubrey looks over the captain carefully. 

The English crew buries the dead from the battle.  Aubrey then says they will return to the Galapagos.  He tells Pullings that he is now Captain Pullings and will sail the Acheron south to Valparaiso, Chile. Stephen mentions to Aubrey that the French doctor has been dead for awhile.  It dawns on Aubrey that the French captain fooled him.  He pretended to be the doctor and used a dead Frenchman to play the part of the dead French captain.   

Aubrey announces that they are going to catch up with the Acheron that is not that far ahead of them.  He gives the order to beat to quarters. 


Not much history here.  The ships are fictitious and so is the rest of the story. But the film is set in 1805 during the Napoleonic wars and is right in emphasizing the important of the British fleet in the fight against Napoleon.  Nelson was the great naval hero of the time.  The Battle of the Nile, 13 August 1798, mentioned in the film, reversed the strategic naval situation in the Mediterranean, with the British Royal Navy assuming a dominant position there over the French.  The movie is entertaining with lots of action.  Russell Crowe was very good as Capt. Jack Aubrey.  The rest of the cast also did a good job on the whole. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 


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