Many documentaries have the power to change your outlook on the challenges of the world. In drawing stories from areas less fortunate than yours they can inspire, in telling the tales of people far more unique than ourselves they can exasperate and enrich in equal measure. A great documentary (see this years amazing Nostalgia for the Light) can hold all the sadness and drama and intrigue of a created world, while underhandedly reminding us that fact, is indeed stranger than fiction. Louise Osmond and Jerry Rothwell’s documentary Deep Water is such a film.
In autumn 1968, electrical engineer Donald Crowhurst entered himself as the wild card in the first Golden Globe sailing competition. The first ever nonstop, one-man circumnavigational race around the world. He was pitted against eight other professional competitors and, with the odds stacked against him, his desperation (both financial and personal) would become the driving force behind his tenacious determination, and the base of this incredible true story. Deep Water, narrated by a calming Tilda Swinton is, simply put, one of the greatest little seen sporting documentaries ever made. What begins as a tale of the typical British underdog, morphs into a serious study of danger, patience, loneliness and eventually, delusion.
The interviews are perfectly pruned, wrapping themselves around the film, enriching and deepening Donald’s story to a staggering degree. Tape recordings and super 16mm footage taken by Crowhurst and the other competitors add a nostalgic texture to Deep Water, adding a roughness to each of the fascinating stories involving the other men who faced tradgedy in their 9 month quest for fame and glory, alone and frightened. We’re presented with a study not only of character but of the danger of daring to dream and, oddly, in one case, the fear of success. It’s staggeringly researched, modestly presented and relies solely on the only thing that can leave a film lingering in your mind: Story.
Packing a serious punch and remembering one of the great long forgotten frontiers of sport and endurance, the film is wildly entertaining, strangely philosophical, impeccably made and devastatingly sad. Even if you are familiar with the story of Donald Crowhurst I highly recommend you see it played out through Osmond and Rothwell’s water tight film. And if you, like myself, were completely unaware of the great race of 1968, then Deep Water is absolutely essential.