UK / 1948 / Ealing
Director: Charles Frend
Writers: Walter Meade, Ivor Montagu, Mary Hayley Bell
Cast: John Mills, Derek Bond, Harold Warrender, James Robertson Justice, Reginald Beckwith, Kenneth More, James McKechnie
Although the film took four years to complete and members of the crew were often sent home suffering from frostbite, John Mills described working on Scott of the Antarctic as “one of the best experiences of my whole career. The location work had such reality… we worked in sub-zero temperatures and shot in hair-raising conditions. The continuity aspect was important emotionally – and also from the point of view of our beards!”
The Scott story is an epic tale of valour, bravery, gallantry and, ultimately, tragedy. Mills stars as explorer Captain Scott who, determined to be the first man to reach the South Pole, assembles a crew for a polar expedition in the winter of 1911. Setting sail in the Terra Nova with Dr Wilson (Harold Warrender), Lieutenant Bowers (Reginald Beckwith), Captain Oates (Derek Bond) and Petty Officer Evans (James Robertson Justice), Scott’s 78-day trek to the Pole ends in bitter disappointment when he discovers he’s been beaten by the Norwegian explorer Amundsen.
The explorers’ journey back to their base camp has subsequently become one of the most famous in history, illuminated by the heroic bravery of Captain Oates and the ill-fated luck of the other members. After a round-trip of 1,008 miles, their bodies were eventually found only 11 miles away from the safety of the base.
Striving for authenticity, the movie draws heavily on Scott’s own diaries and uses actual equipment from the expedition. Critics commended this attention to detail, with the New York Times enthusiastically commending the film as, “Beautifully written, staged and acted, this record of Scott’s ill-starred expedition is a stirring memorial to a dauntless leader and his courageous men.” Sight and Sound, meanwhile, said that the movie was “one of the best of its kind ever made. It has a restrained but compelling authenticity of atmosphere which is rare and admirable.”