UK / 1953 / Ealing Studios
Writer: Eric Ambler, from the novel by Nicholas Monsarrat / Director: Charles Frend
Cast: Jack Hawkins, Donald Sinden, Denholm Elliott, John Stratton, Stanley Baker, Virginia McKenna, Moira Lister,
This was one of Ealing Studio’s most financially successful productions and it consolidated Jack Hawkins’ star status, which he had established with his strong performance the previous year in Ealing’s Mandy.
Nicholas Monsarrat was then a part-time writer, working as a government officer at the time of his novel’s runaway success, and had wanted the rights to The Cruel Sea to go to a British production company. Monsarrat and director Charles Frend, brought together by Ealing’s Michael Balcon, got on excellently and Eric Ambler wrote a superb screen adaptation of the 416-page novel, brilliantly condensing its plethora of incident into a compact screenplay without losing the force and atmosphere of the original.
The story, which takes place during the Battle of the Atlantic, largely centres on the corvette “Compass Rose” and the wartime experiences of its commander, Ericson (Hawkins), and her crew. Ericson, the only experienced sailor on board, suffers an emotional crisis arising from his decision to run down survivors of a torpedoed ship in order to attack a suspected lurking submarine, but “Compass Rose” is later more successful in action and executive officer Lieutenant Lockhart (Donald Sinden) learns about the horrors of war at first hand. During a refit, Lockhart falls for Wren officer Julie Hallam (Virginia McKenna) and Sub-Lieutenant Morrel (Denholm Elliott) discovers his actress wife Elaine (Moira Lister) has been unfaithful.