Riddle of the Sands, the
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A young British yachtsman (MacCorkindale) is sailing off the north coast of Germany in 1901, when he stumbles upon a plot to invade England. The young sailor enlists the aid of an old chum (York), who also works in the Foreign Office, and together the two English gents turn amateur sleuths and embark on a daring adventure to save Britain from catastrophe at the hands of the German military and Kaiser Wilhelm himself! Based on the Erskine Childers novel, considered the prototype of the modern day spy thriller.
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I first learned sbout it when it did a short and much ignored run in the theaters in the late 70's. It was recommended by a fellow sailor during a discussion of sailing movies. Since then it's become a kind of "cult" movie for sailors.
The movie follows fairly closely the novel by Erskine Childers whose own exciting life created an excellent platform for his book of the same name. Childers was executed by a firing squad during the Irish Revolution.
This movie was a real sleeper when it was released and that's too bad because it's a top-flight sailing spy adventure with a little romance thrown in. In my opinion, it's a four-star movie and should have been an award winner.
Erskine Childers author of the book is worthy of an action movie all to himself. In death he was shot by a British firing squad as a martyr to the Irish nationalist cause. As a novelist, this book is credited as having influenced British Royal Navy policy to the advantage of the British defense. A partial list of his activities would include British soldier (Boer war), Royal Navy intelligence service (WWI - Winner of the Distinguished Service Cross), arms smuggler, and yachtsman.
The book behind this movie is considered to be one of the first modern espionage books. In the Riddle of the Sands Childers would establish many of the elements that would influence the spy genre for decades to come. In the immediate years after this book was published it would inspire a number of look-alike books including a sequel by another author. About the only aspect of the modern spy novel not seen in Riddle of the Sands is a heavy emphasis on high tech gadgetry and huge expense accounts.
Now to the movie: Riddle of the Sands finds a relatively young Michael York and in a supporting role traveling out to join his friend amateur yachtsman author Davies, played by Simon McClorkindale. Simon is in need of backup because he believes he is on to a possible German scheme the exact dimensions of which he does not yet appreciate. The balance of the plot is dedicated to the process of discovering the details of the plot and then foiling it all before reporting it back to the British foreign office.
In terms of the history of the period, the movie is set in the early years after 1900. Germany has emerged as a modern nation and an industrial power. The British public had not yet come to understand that their command of the sea could be compromised by the upstart German Navy. More to the point, this was a time in the industrial revolution where the steam engine was king; and steel and iron are still competing. Therefore this movie is an example of unintended steam punk. In a sense this is a steam punk espionage movie.
If your idea of an espionage movies includes high-speed chases super gadgetry and female cleavage this is not your movie. The pacingof this movie tends to be slow slow. If you're not a fan of yachting and the beauty of sailing ships, much of this movie will bore you. There are some great views of steam engines, gracious old railway carriages and period costumes. Acting throughout is largely low-key and natural and, perhaps this is my prejudice, very British.
I enjoyed this movie. To be fair - it appears that the slow pacing forced a rather abrupt ending. And while the movie generally follows and is true to the book the need to wrap it up seems to have caused the director to deviate from the book in order to produce a speedy ending. This is another case where the book should be read and appreciated on its own terms and the movie watched and enjoyed in its terms. It is understood that the comparison will as usual favor the book.