The North Water

Rug up. The Arctic scenery is the star of this very masculine thriller on a Victorian whaling ship.

If Vigil had a submarine with a killer onboard, The North Water raises the stakes with a whaling ship in the Arctic with a psychopath….

The star of this 5 part UK drama is the backdrop. Producers journeyed north as far as 81 degrees for the realism of pack ice sequences -said to be the furthest point north any television drama has ever been filmed.

The boat is the Volunteer, an English whaling ship that sets sail in 1859 under the watch of Captain Arthur Brownlee (Stephen Graham). Young surgeon Patrick Sumner (Jack O’Connell) may be running from incidents in colonial India, but he is determined to make a fresh start amongst the rowdy crew.

And what burly blokes they are, none bigger than the gruff harpoonist Henry Drax (Colin Farrell), who loves a drink and catch of the day, when he isn’t getting into fisticuffs in a local pub. There’s plenty of that here in between the booze, sea shanties and jigs. There’s also the boorish first mate Cavendish (Sam Spruell) whom, along with Drax, is part of a master plan by Cpt. Brownlee.

But by episode two a crime takes place which threatens to thwart said plan and puts the medical skills of Mr. Sumner, to the test. Meanwhile he is dealing with a few demons from the past that have followed him all the way to the ice floes.

The scenery is quite fascinating to behold and, while it isn’t a National Geographic documentary, you can only marvel at what conditions they endured just for the shots.

Being a whaling saga there are some necessarily-barbaric scenes, first involving helpless seals as prey, and then the whales shown no mercy from this old fashioned industry (at least it isn’t as unbalanced as modern whaling ships). Producers spare you the critical moment of death, but last minute cutaways with the accompanying sound of a dull thud, leaves little to the imagination.

Jack O’Connell makes for a conflicted moral compass in this bastion of men, while Colin Farrell snarls from behind his scruffy beard. Many of the scenes below deck are dimly lit (do editors in dark edit suites forget we are often watching TV screens in daylight?) which is quite frustrating.

Director and writer Andrew Haigh adopts a slow burn approach to his tale, although unlike Moby Dick, it isn’t weeks at sea waiting for action. The pace picks up in episode two when it shifts into whodunnit mode.

There’s no escaping an abundance of alpha males in a Victorian catch-and-kill. But it’s authentically reproduced and the isolation of the men will be a test of character.

The North Water screens Tuesday at Foxtel on Demand / Binge

One Response

  1. Watched episode 1 last night cos I was at a bit of a loose end and our fearless leader’s given it a pretty good review. It’s [censored] grim but not in an off-putting way. That said I think 5 episodes will be enough. I like where it seems to be heading though

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