“I think this film is about family”, comments Rachel Weisz, who plays Donald Crowhurst’s wife, Clare. “Donald, the head of the family is an amateur sailor, an inventor, a dreamer and a fantasist, so when he sees a competition in the Sunday Times offering £5000 to the first man who circumnavigates the earth single-handedly, without stopping, he dreams that he could do this. Chichester had sailed around the world recently, stopping once and he was knighted upon his return and became a hero. It’s a story about how boys and men become fixated with becoming heroes”.
“I think Donald had a lot of madcap ideas which often didn’t get carried out, so at first when Clare hears he’s going to enter this race, it’s such a preposterous idea to her, because he’s not a professional sailor, he’s just pottered around. I don’t think she believed he would actually do it. Slowly but surely it dawns on her that he’s getting closer and closer to actually going and there’s a moment where she asks him ‘Are you really going to go?’ and he says ‘yes’”.
The question is – could Clare Crowhurst have stopped her husband from embarking on this risky challenge? “Perhaps he would have been stoppable,” says Weisz, “but from my viewpoint, it’s a portrait of a marriage and a relationship and what would have happened had she stopped him from going? Would he ever have forgiven her? In a relationship, can you stop the other from living out their dreams? In this case, it turns out to be tragic decision. Clare Crowhurst has said in interviews that she felt retrospectively that she should have stopped him. But, I think in the moment, she didn’t feel like she had the right to. She was in an impossible situation.”
“It sort of becomes two films, the one at sea, where myself and the children are not there, and then there’s the family home, waiting for news of her husband and their father who is becoming a national hero whilst he’s at sea. Clare has to deal with the press, with long periods of silence and Christmas and birthdays without him. She also has to deal with having no money to buy food or heat the house without him because Clare depended on Donald for money.”
In the course of her research for the film, Rachel Weisz got a sense of Clare from the documentary Deep Water and from reading about her, “that she really wasn’t interested in being married to someone famous. I sense that she loved him very, very deeply and she didn’t want to stop him living out his dreams.”
“At that time in history, men were leaving their homes and crossing new frontiers, be it in outer space or circumnavigating the world. So, for Clare, she was happy he was going to be successful as that was going to make him happy” muses Weisz, “I think she was happy if Don was happy.”
When an actor approaches a role where the character being portrayed is real and still alive, there comes a certain responsibility. Rachel Weisz was keen not to do an impersonation of Clare Crowhurst, but to simply convey something of her spirit as she explains, “I think it would be different if one were playing someone already iconic, as everybody would know what they looked like and how they spoke. I’m playing a real person who has been very media-shy. She has not sought fame or publicity, she was never interested in that. I want to honour her. I watched a lot of footage to get an essence of her but at the end of the day, it’s me being her”.
In telling Donald Crowhurst’s story on the big screen, Rachel Weisz hopes, “We’re celebrating the beauty of being a dreamer, the beauty of thinking big, wanting great things and following one’s passion and one’s heart towards doing something incredible.”
For director James Marsh, the heart of the tragedy and what made the stakes so high, is the fact that the Crowhurst family was such a happy one, “In the archive, you can see what a lovely couple Donald and Clare were together. You sense they were really well connected as a couple and it’s a happy family unit. They sail together and Donald is a very good father and we really wanted to show that in the film. His children all remember him so fondly. He was a good husband and father, and what’s so tragic, part of what he wants to do is to prove to his wife and children that he’s someone special. I think that’s part of the motivation for him.”
“In the archive of the real Clare Crowhurst, she’s a formidable woman and a very good mother and they’re sort of equals as a couple” notes James Marsh. He’d long wanted to work with Rachel Weisz, so when it came to casting the role of Clare Crowhurst, a perfect opportunity presented itself as he explains, “Rachel is great and there’s an interesting physical connection you can make between her and Clare. They don’t look alike but they’re on the same sort of spectrum of humanity if you like, just as Colin and Donald are which is helpful.”
“Rachel is one of those actors who just surprises you and does things you don’t quite expect her to”, recalls Marsh, “that flushes out things in other actors. I loved working with her. She really relies on instinct, she doesn’t really like to do lots of rehearsals or commit to things. Rachel always wants to be loose and to respond. I love that style of work from her.”
Screenwriter Scott Z. Burns feels that for the audience, the voyage Clare goes on is just as important as the voyage Don goes on, “You get the sense that her insight into her husband – both in terms of his need to go and her acceptance of what happened afterwards – is extraordinary, it’s from a place of reluctance to a place of forgiveness.”
“The great thing about Rachel is that she understands the strength of Clare Crowhurst”, observes Burns. “Rachel also understands that the moment in history we’re talking about, also asked certain things of a woman in terms of being a wife. I think she very quickly understood the journey Clare went on. On one had she wanted to be loving and nurturing but you also see a very progressive thinker. Most people would be aghast at the prospect of their husband setting off on this kind of adventure, but Clare understood how fundamental it was to his being and that casts a really interesting light on their relationship.”
“To me it’s a love story”, concludes Rachel Weisz, “you don’t see them meeting as teenagers, you meet them when they have children and they’re settled into their marriage. I think they were passionately in love with each other and Clare’s whole life is Donald. She didn’t have a job, though I think she wanted to teach amongst other things, and to write. But she was a mum and very devoted to Donald. That’s how I perceive her. I guess what makes it so romantic is the fact that they’re separated because that’s what old school romantic with a capital ‘R’ means – something that’s unattainable, unfulfilled and broken. That’s why it’s tragic because I think they were yearning for each other while they were separated.”
The interview and press asset pictures were taken from THE MERCY (2018) production notes produced by StudioCanal UK.