Shackleton (2002) TV

 

 

Director:     Charles Sturridge. 

Cast:     Kenneth Branagh (Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton), John Grillo (Franks), Paul Humpoletz (Man in Audience), Phoebe Nicholls (Emily Shackleton), Eve Best (Eleanor Shackleton), Mark Tandy (Frank Shackleton), Cicely Delaney (Cecily Shackleton), Christian Young (Raymond Shackleton), Embeth Davidtz (Rosalind Chetwynd), Gino Melvazzi (Head Waiter), Danny Webb (Perris), Lorcan Cranitch (Frank Wild), Michael Culkin (Jack Morgan), Mark McGann (Tom Crean), Abby Ford (Marcie), Kevin McNally (Frank Worsley), Robert Hardy (Sir James Caird), Pip Torrens (James McIlroy), Nicholas Hewetson (Alexander Macklin), Jamie Lee (James Wordie), Rick Warden (John Vincent), Ken Drury (Henry McNish), Matt Day (Frank Hurley), Paul Bigley (Charles Green).

Shackleton's journey to the South Pole and the crew's harrowing return trip

 

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

Part I. 

The news is that Amundsen failed to reach the South Pole. But Robert F. Scott, where is he?  Later news is that Amundsen is back in Tasmania having reached the South Pole On December 14 last year.  Shackleton comments:  "Looks like my career as a lecturer is over." 

Shackleton's brother Frank lost a lot of money.  Shackleton wants to make one more trip to the South Pole.  Frank comments:  "You said you didn't want to go back."  Shackleton says that he wants to cross the entire continent this time.  The cost will be around 60,000 English pounds.  Frank is going on trial for stealing a lot of money. 

Shackleton's big worry is that there is going to be a war.  He has to act quickly and now.  So he rents an office to begin raising funds for the trip.  Frank Wild will be his second in command.  Tom Crean, who was with Captain Scott last year, is going with them.  The name of the expedition will be the Imperial Transarctic Expedition.  The plan is to land at Wassal Bay.  They will start on two sides.  On the far side, men will lay down supply depots to about the center of the South Pole and then return.  Shackleton tries to get money from the Royal Geographic Society, but they give him only a nominal amount.  He does, however, manage to get some money from the rich Miss Janet Stancombe Wills.  Frank Shackleton, who defrauded a lady, receives 15 months of hard labor.  An aspiring young actress kisses Shackleton.  He tries to get help from the Admiralty, but they are not interested.   

Henry Hudson will be the navigator of the expedition.  The ship will be named the Endurance after the Shackleton family motto:  "By endurance we conquer."  Shackleton goes to Scotland to see Sir James Caird and gets some funds from him.  Archduke Ferdinand is assassinated by the Serbs.  (The First World War will be starting soon.)  Time is running short.  They only have a couple of months to reach the South Pole.  Shackleton is bothered by sciatica.   

August 3, 1914, Margate.  Churchill sends Shackleton a note:  Proceed!  The men will go ahead of Shackleton, who tells them:  "I'll meet you in Buenos Aires."  He then speaks with the King, who gives him a British flag to take with him on his journey.   Shackleton says good-bye to his family.  His mistress shows up at the port to see him off.  His wife Emily arrives and sees the woman.  She is very upset and leaves.  Shackleton decides to take a later voyage.  Frank is being released from prison.  Shackleton will stay for the release.  His brother tells him that he had a terrible time in prison.  Shackleton has dinner with Emily, at which they are both upset.  He tells his wife:  "I love you.  I couldn't go on without you." 

October 13, 1914, Buenos Aires.  Joining the expedition is Frank Hurley, a film maker.  Underway, the men soon realize that the ship handles like a "pig" on the water.  They are using up a lot of their coal.  There is some trouble aboard.  Shackleton tells the captain that he is too informal with the men; demotes the captain to sailing master; and makes himself captain.  The crew have a farewell dinner with the Argentines. 

October 26, 1914.   Shackleton writes home that "We are leaving."  On board they find a stow-away from Wales.  One of the crew, a Canadian buddy, helped him aboard.  They were one man short anyway.  They get close to South Georgia.  Shackleton suffers an attack of sciatica.  They land at the Whaling Station at Grytviken.

November 5, 1914.  Land at Wassel Bay.   The news is not good.  There is "big ice" in the area.  The thinking is that the crew will not be able to reach their destination at the moment.  A sailor tells some of the crew:  "Your ship is not made for the ice."  They tell Shackleton that he must wait for warmer weather.  But Shackleton decides to push through the 1,000 miles of ice to get to land. 

A big worry for the crew is underwater ice (ice that they cannot see until they hit it).  They let the men out onto the ice for a while.  They shoot a seal.  The guys play soccer.  They fail to reach land by Christmas.  They now have less than 500 miles left to go.  Someone sights land.  Shackleton tells the crew that they have gone farther than any one has ever been.   But there is a problem.  It is getting colder.  It is now harder and slower going.  It costs them more coal.  They stop again to exercise the dogs.  They find that they are stuck in the ice.  Shackleton says:  "We're stuck until we're unstuck.'   They have the hope that the flow may be breaking up so they try to cut a channel through to open water.  But the ice is six feet thick.  Shackleton has to tell the men that they cannot escape the ice this winter.  So they will begin winter training.  Five men will go on alone when better weather arrives.  The five men are: Frank Wilde, Tom Crean, Beck, Putty and Mr. Hurley, the film maker. 

Part II.

Shackleton's actress mistress is going to be in a one act play of some 15 minutes duration.  Lady Shackleton learns that she won't hear anything from Shackleton until Christmas when the ice starts breaking up. 

Weddell Sea, August 1915.  They hear Perry on the radio.  The men laugh, because the "boss" (i.e., Shackleton) does not think the famous explorer actually made it to the South Pole.  Under them the ice shifts, which has the effect of an earthquake on the ship.  The men put tents up on the ice away from the ship.  After a while the order is given to abandon ship.  There are only 18 sleeping bags, so 10 men will have to use blankets. 

Shackleton decides to move on.  He wants to reach Robertson Island and then go to Wilhemina Bay.  The goal is to move fives miles a day toward Roberston Island.  The going, however, proves much tougher than they had thought.  The ice projects upward and the boats on sleds have to be pushed and pulled over them.  Since they don't make much progress, a small group of men go back to the ship to collect more food supplies. 

The ship finally sinks beneath the water.  The ice around them is becoming more unstable and Shackleton decides to move on.  It is Christmas time again.  The men have a feast on all the food that cannot be taken with them.  One of the men and a supporter start to become mutinous, but Shackleton stops any revolt by telling the mutineer that he will not hesitate to shoot him.  They now have to kill the dogs, some of which they eat. 

They see Elfiln Island in the distance.  The ice splits from underneath them and some of the men fall into the freezing water.  They are hauled out and saved.  The men get into the three boats and start rowing.  (Back home talk of a possible relief expedition occurs.)  All three boats are able to reach the beach on Elfin Island.  Shackleton decides that he will take six men in one boat and proceed to the whaling station at South Georgia.  It is a journey of 817 miles.  In four days, the six men set sail. 

One of the men on Elfin Island has to have his gangrenous toes amputated.  (Back home it is the middle of May and the relief expedition will have to be underway in eight weeks or else they will only be picking up corpses.)  A huge wave pours over the boat knocking the men all around. 

Shackleton's mistress calls Mrs. Shackleton. Crying, she wants to know if Shackleton is alive.  At first, the wife gives the mistress a hard time, but she eventually tells her that Shackleton is alive.  That is a great relief to the mistress. 

Shackleton and his men reach South Georgia.  But they are on the wrong side of the island.  Shackleton and two others will have to cross by land.  It proves to be a very difficult thing to do as the area is very mountainous.  (Back home, the conference for the relief committee meets.)  Shackleton and the two others finally hear a whistle blowing.  They walk to the nearest viewing point and see the huge bay in front of them.  The three men enter the village.  They go to the Manager's house.  The manager does not recognize Shackleton, until the explorer tells him his name.  He tells Shackleton:  "You are safe now.  Just rest." 

Back on Elfin Island, the call goes out:  "Ship!  Ship!  Ship!"  The men rush onto the beach.  They see Shackleton standing up front in the boat headed toward the island.  The explorer shouts:  "Are you all well?"  The reply is:  "All well, boss.  We are all well." 

Shackleton had to make four separate attempts in different ships to reach Elfin Island on August 30, 1916, four months and six days after he had left that Island.  In Punta Arenas, the crew were given a hero's welcome.  Shackleton wroe to his wife:  "I have done it.  Damn the Admiralty!  Not a life lost and we have been through hell."  Within three months, most of the men were at the front lines. 

Shackleton made another expedition in 1922.  He died of a heart attack as the ship reached South Georgia.  He is buried in the cemetery at the whaling station at Grytviken. 

 

 

Good movie.  I knew that Shackleton had a rough go of it, but I never realized just how hard of a return trip he and his men had.  The story is told on two DVD discs.  It's just amazing that against such terrible hardships and travails Shackleton was able to bring himself and all his men safely home. 

Patrick Louis Cooney,  Ph. D. 

 

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