268. The Cruel Sea (UK 1953)

Director: Charles Frend

Starring: Jack Hawkins, Donald Sinden, Denholm Elliot, Virginia McKenna, Stanley Baker

Cinematography: Gordon Dines

Original Music: Alan Rawnsthorne

Novel:  Nicholas Monsarrat

Screenplay: Eric Ambler

Bit Part: Sam Kydd (obviously)

FACT : The only film on the list where Stanley Baker refers to sausages as 'snorkers'.

LIE: When Stanley was at school he was known as 'Master Baker'. When former Radio One dj (and now Classic FM 'jock', because he loves all kinds of music, he really does) Simon Bates was at school he was known as 'cunt'. (Come to think of it, that's only 50% untrue).

In one line:  Royal Navy corvette sees action in the North Atlantic.


Merchant Navy officer George Ericson joins the Royal Navy at the start of World War 2. He is given command of the Compass Rose, a corvette designed to escort the North Atlantic Fleet. Ericson's crew of newly commissioned officers and seasoned veterans endure the hardships of a dangerous and almost permanently freezing cold campaign. After three years of fighting, the Compass Rose sinks its first U-Boat, but tragedy is close at hand


Although it suffers from a (bit of) a reputation as being a clichéd, stiff-upper-lip schedule-filler, The Cruel Sea is a superb film and stands head and shoulders above its contemporaries, including the ridiculous and Americanised Bridge on the River Kwai.

Wirral-born writer Monsarrat served in the RNVR during WW2, and there's a real sense of authenticity in his portrayal of men at war in The Cruel Sea that's missing from many other British war films of the same era. Monsarrat's novel is tremendous, and its depiction of the loneliness of command and the grim months of escorting the Russian convoys is almost painful at times. His visceral descriptions of a group of men who are almost permanently exhausted and soaking wet from the almost ice-cold Atlantic waters lives long beyond the final page.

The book is far more 'adult' than its film counterpart. Ericson is both the Godhead figure of command and also a paternal figure who has to listen to the gripes of his crew - including an abscondee who tells him that when he returned to sort out his marriage, he realised that  his wife was entertaining another man because she was wearing a spunk-stained nightdress. Now, I don't remember that in the film.

Getting sprayed by salty liquids is a feature of both novel and film.

There were two versions of the novel: the adult original and a 'Cadet Version' aimed at naval cadets who wanted to read stories about seamen and not semen. The publishers obviously didn't know 14 year lads.

The film is just great as well. Hawkins gives the best performance of his life and he is ably abetted by SV favourite Denholm Elliot and the brilliant Stanley Baker as a bastard, bully-boy Lt. Bennett.

Baker as Bennett: bully boy and mincing stereotyped homosexual. Note the defecating 'Jack Tar' in the background.

The most famous scene of the film shows the Compass Rose detecting a U-Boat beneath a group of just-about-to-be-picked-up shipwrecked sailors. Ericson has to decide whether to save the sailors and risk losing the submarine, or to kill the men by performing his duties and setting off the depth charges.

There's no gung-ho bollocks in this film and there's no sense of the war being a middle-class boys' jolly outing. There's just a sense of futility, and sadness and men doing their duty.

An outstanding film and the antithesis of many really shitty British (and American, don't forget) war films of that era.