The task the producers of Shackleton, the historical biopic of the Irish Antarctic explorer featuring Kenneth Brannagh, faced was every bit as daunting as the task faced by the movie’s title character. In this case, how to tell and accurately convey the epic survival odyssey of the crew of the Endurance without causing the audience to doze off. Shackleton and his men spent months ice bound, month camped on the ice after the Endurance began to be crushed by the Antarctic pack ice, and then months camped on the shore of Elephant Island. How do you make that interesting for a modern audience?
Well, the producers of Shackleton have indeed accomplished the impossible. Filmed on location in Greenland, the movie is both riveting and realistic. To recap briefly, the movie opens with Ernest Shackleton (Kenneth Brannagh) attempting to gather funds for one more try at Antarctica. Having had to turn back before reaching the South Pole on his last expedition and subsequently beaten to that milestone by Roald Amundsen, Shackleton conceives of a new venture–a never before attempted coast-to-coast crossing of the Antarctic continent.
However, the odds are stacked against Shackleton from the very beginning. He’s getting older–this trip will be his last hurrah–and World War I is on the verge of breaking out, making funds for the expedition hard to raise. His family life is also complicated–he has a wife and kids and a mistress on the side and his brother, Frank, is on trial for fraud. Once off the coast of Antarctica, things go from bad to worse as the Endurance becomes trapped and then crushed in the ice pack. On melting floes and facing long distances and bad weather, Shackleton must get his crew back alive against impossible odds.
I really liked the way the director intercut scenes of the expedition with scenes of life back home in England. If you have a chance, be sure to pick up the three DVD pack which has a documentary about the life of Ernest Shackleton as well as a short film on the history of Antarctic exploration.