The British have always been good at celebrating failure, and nowhere is that more evident than in the heroes they create. Scott of the Antarctic is one such British legend: a brave and honourable man who had a mission – to be the first to reach the South Pole – but he was modest enough to fail.
This film version of the true story, made in 1948, recreates the events of 1912 and casts the era’s go-to man for stiff upper lip heroism, John Mills, in the title part. Scott’s mission came shortly before World War One, and this film version was made in the immediate aftermath of World War Two. Both actual and fictional came at a time when society needed a hero.
Scott of the Antarctic depicts the assembly of Scott’s expedition in England as well as the actual journey across Antarctica. It is a product of its time, and whilst the restored picture quality for Blu-ray is beautifully clear, it does show up the artifice of the film, with ‘ice’ crafted from polystyrene and clingfilm, and the actors doing their best to look cold under hot studio lights. The performances are great, though, with the ever-reliable John Mills (Ice Cold In Alex, Great Expectations) marrying charisma with humility – a rare skill. That other great British leading man of the time, Kenneth More, also stars, at a time when he was in the ascendancy. It’s Derek Bond as Oates who most often shares the screen with Mills, though look out for brief appearances by Barry Letts, who later went on to produce Doctor Who, as well as Christopher Lee, before he hit the big time. He’s nevertheless instantly recognisable through his height and saturnine good looks.
Scott of the Antarctic is a well-structured movie, though the constant whiteness of the snow and the slow trudge of the expedition quickly becomes repetitive. The undemonstrative way in which Scott selects his final team, leaving a few of his men in the Antarctic before the final push to the pole, is realistically British, but feels oddly undramatic now. Charles Frend’s direction of the climactic scene is compellingly still. It’s a memorable movie moment which makes up for the earlier pedestrian moments.
This release has, unusually for films of its age, some excellent extra features. History enthusiasts will enjoy the interview with explorer Ranulph Fiennes, who offers the best-documented explanations for where Scott’s expedition went tragically wrong, busting plenty of myths about Scott and Oates in the process. Andrew Davies talks about Ralph Vaughan Williams’s famous score for the movie, whilst there’s also home movie footage of John Mills and a featurette on Jack Cardiff’s cinematography.
Cast: John Mills, Derek Bond, Harold Warrender, James Robertson Justice, Kenneth More, Barry Letts, Christopher Lee Director: Charles Frend Writer: Walter Meade Released By: Studiocanal Certificate: U Duration: 105 mins Release Date: 6th June 2016