News | The north water

★★★1/2 There is no metaphor in the “northern water” to which the title of this five-episode British mini-series, produced by the BBC, alludes. The name refers to the Polynya, a maritime area between Greenland and Canada, exposed to wind and tides all year round, although surrounded by sea ice. Due to a combination of factors, a more benign microclimate is generated in that polar zone, and provides an ideal refuge for whales and other species that come to feed and regain strength.

The successful novel of the same name by the English author and academic Ian McGuire, published in 2016, on which the shipment is based, is set there. Filmmaker Andrew Haigh, also Anglo-Saxon, known for the wonderful film “45 years”, with Charlotte Rampling, took the reins of the television version, avoided the visual effects so in vogue, and boldly filmed at low temperatures on location in the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard. It is that the plot is located in an expedition of the English whaler “Volunteer”, which in 1859 crosses the waters of the Arctic, full of characters short on words, loaded with guilt and sins.

One is Patrick Sumner (Jack O’Connell), an Irish surgeon, dishonorably discharged veteran of the Indian wars, addicted to laudanum, and reading Homer and Schopenhauer on board. Another is Henry Drax (Colin Farrell), an expert harpooner, fond of alcohol and low passions. These disparate men represent the opposite poles of human morality, in the sense that the first wallows in the consequences of his failures, while the second is a brute who only attends to the satisfaction of his instincts. .

The differences are illustrated when they pass a tavern in Lerwick, the last port in Scotland before heading out to sea. The sailor wants to go looking for sex with some prostitutes, while the doctor rejects the idea to avoid venereal diseases.

Haigh, as writer and director, makes exciting use of epic wide shots of the turbulent ocean, of barren landscapes of the far north, dotted with flimsy rowboats, where tiny human figures look ridiculously insignificant in that frozen desert. The homogeneous quality of a seamless cast (the multifaceted Stephen Graham also shines as Captain Brownlee and the great Tom Courtenay appears), the allusions to literary references such as “Moby Dick” by Melville or “Heart of Darkness” by Conrad , and the certainty that the mysteries of the primitive are unfathomable, define this interesting chronicle of survival.

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