Academy Award winner Jeremy Irons stars in this sweeping adaption of Dava Sobel's best-selling book of high seas adventure and political intrigue. Determined to stop shipping losses on the oceans of the 18th century, Britain's Parliament offers a fabulous cash award to anyone who can devise a way to determine longitute at sea. Convinced he can solve the problem that has defeated England's best minds, rural clock maker John Harrison (Michael Gambon) begins an obsessive, 40-year struggle to claim the Longitude prize with his ingenious marine clock. 200 years later, naval officer Rupert Gould (Jeremy Irons) stumbles across Harrison's forgotten chronometers and devotes himself to restoring these long-neglected mechanical masterpieces.
Gracefully adapted from Dava Sobel's extraordinary bestseller, the four-part TV production of Longitude combines drama, history, and science into a stimulating, painstakingly authentic account of personal triumph and joyous discovery. Equally impressive is the way writer-director Charles Sturridge has crafted parallel stories that complement each other with enriching perspective. The first story involves the successful 40-year effort of 18th-century clockmaker John Harrison (Michael Gambon) to solve the elusive problem of measuring longitude at sea. In 1714 the British Parliament had offered a generous reward to anyone who solved the problem, and Harrison devoted his life to that solution. The second story, some 200 years later, involves the effort of shell-shocked British Navy veteran Rupert Gould (Jeremy Irons) to restore the glorious clocks that Harrison had built. Like Harrison, Gould is the most admirable type of obsessive, but, also like Harrison, he risks his marriage to accomplish his difficult task.
Thousands of sailors perished at sea before Harrison's triumph changed history, but Longitude demonstrates that Harrison's glory was slow to arrive--and his prize money even slower. A fascinating study of 18th-century British politics and clashing egos in the arena of science, the film is both epic and intimate in consequence, and Sturridge's magnificent script inspires Gambon and Irons to do some of the best work of their outstanding careers. The ever-reliable Ian Hart appears in Part 3 as Harrison's now-adult son and apprentice, and Longitude approaches its dramatic climax with the exhilarating tension of a first-rate thriller. Rallying after sickness to prove the integrity of their marvelous seafaring chronometers, the Harrisons still had to fight for official recognition, and Gould's restoration of the Harrison clockworks provides a fitting coda to this exceptional story about the thrill of discovery and the tenacity of remarkable men. --Jeff Shannon