Colin Firth films The Mercy at sea

The Mercy

Director James Marsh and Colin Firth filmed at sea around the UK’s south coast and in Malta for true-life boating movie The Mercy.

Firth stars as British yachtsman Donald Crowhurst, who in 1968 attempted to win the round-the-world Golden Globe Race.

The production team filmed scenes in Teignmouth on the Devon coast, from where Crowhurst set sail, but ocean-set sequences were shot 75 miles further east, off the Isle of Portland, where the crew fought the tides and bad weather.

“I think Portland and Weymouth were the biggest challenges because of the wind, changing weather and waves,” says producer Peter Czernin. 

Ocean filming also took place in the Mediterranean off the coast of Malta, where the team faced daily challenges keeping the coastline out of shot, while also having to head further out to sea than they would otherwise have planned in order to steer clear of other boats.

“We were shooting on film so magazines would run out while we were out there so we had all the logistics associated with that,” says Czernin.

“Then there’s the fact that the crew need to eat and go to the loo. It was kind of bonkers and very difficult. I don’t think I’ll make another film on the water in a hurry.”

During the Maltese leg of the shoot, the production team was restricted to just eight people – as opposed to the usual 30 – on a main crew boat, while the camera department and hair and make-up each had a boat to themselves. There was a separate boat for Marsh and his immediate team, a boat for the runners, several safety boats and an additional larger vessel that had toilet facilities and drinking water.

“I can see why people want to shoot films in the controlled environment of a tank where you can very easily control the movement of the boat,” says Marsh. “But the actual motion of the boat and the experience of shooting with Colin on the boat was so important to the texture of the film.”

Ocean-set films are more commonly using land-based sets with complex, computer-controlled rigs or visual effects to simulate the movement of the sea. 

Aside from the training and safety protocols needed to have actors and crew in water, sets rapidly degrade when in contact with the chemicals needed to keep the water clean, an additional production challenge producers would rather avoid. 


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