Patrick Sumner (Jack O’Connell) is a disgraced ex-army physician. Henry Drax (Colin Farrell) is a grasp harpoon. The 2 disparate males, guided by opposing ethical compasses, unmoored by uncontrollable vices, are thrown collectively on a whaling ship sure for the underside of the ocean. Set in 1859 (eight years after the publication of Moby Dick), Andrew Haigh’s five-episode collection “The North Water,” tailored from Ian McGuire’s same-titled novel, begins as a tense high-seas whodunit however later flounders as a survivalist drama.
With movies like “Weekend,” “45 Years,” and “Lean on Pete,” Haigh has extracted the profound from the modest. A lot as he tries, in “The North Water,” the profound doesn’t exist. No less than, not in the way in which Haigh desires it to.
Sumner arrives in Hull, England—a muddy, grim backwater stuffed with drunk, attractive sailors, testy barkeeps hoisting billy golf equipment, and ramshackle intercourse staff—looking for his subsequent job. Weeks in the past, whereas at a resort bar, the whaling ship magnate Baxter (Tom Courtenay) heard of his predicament: After Sumner’s discharge from combating with the British Military in India, the younger military physician discovered of a tidy inheritance left to him by his not too long ago deceased uncle. It’s simply sufficient land to promote and to kind his personal follow. Claimants have come out of the woodwork, sadly, tying up his property in court docket. He wants a gig till his authorized woes have handed, one thing to get him again on his toes. Regardless of his sincerity, his story is a load of bunk.
Even so, Baxter presents him with a job on The Volunteer, helmed by the assured Captain Brownlee (Stephen Graham), supported by the conniving first-mate Cavendish (Sam Spruell). With the assistance of the 2 males, Baxter intends to sink The Volunteer, take the insurance coverage cash, and depart the fledgling whaling enterprise behind to turn into an industrialist. Nobody else on the ship is aware of in regards to the plan however them. Solely Drax might need an inkling.
The issue: Henry Drax is the final man you need with or in opposition to you. He’s a cold-blooded opportunist ruled by a primordial intuition to kill. A hulking mass of muscle and mangy hair, hidden beneath a bleak brown coat, when Drax walks his respiratory heaves like a locomotive. A lot as Farrell tries to paint this man with few phrases, lumbering with a heavy step, the physicality of the outsized character doesn’t come naturally to him. Each time he walks, it appears like he’s sure to a muscle-constrained go well with. Each time he talks, there’s an eagerness to cowl the skinny characterization he’s been handed.
For his or her doomed voyage, Haigh arranges a number of compelling storylines. Sumner, for instance, haunted by the warfare in India, takes the addictive drug laudanum to uninteresting the psychological anguish. For these scenes, a hazy veil washes over the composition. A cabin boy can also be brutally raped onboard, an incident Sumner takes upon himself to research. Drax and Cavendish plot to kill Sumner, robbing him of his treasured emerald-set Indian ring. And Otto (Roland Møller), an autumn-aged deckhand, has a premonition that the boat will sink, and Sumner will stay inside a bear.
The primary half of “The North Water” thrives on these intriguing items, elucidating the boundaries between good and evil, the saved and the damned, because the crew careens towards catastrophe like a Greek tragedy. It additional hums with a distinctive soundscape, as pinching synths squeal with a whale’s register, and discover grotesque contours within the pursuit of whaling and sealing. The looking sequences, for instance, are stuffed with copious blood as Drax and crew rampage on an icy tundra after unsuspecting seals. First, capturing them to wound. Then bludgeoning them with a pickaxe. Then skinning them. The three-act construction isn’t for those with mild constitutions. The identical goes for Drax’s harpooning abilities, which produce plumes of carnage. All through, the psychological untethering required for the job exhibits: How the killing of animals has whittled these males right down to complete monsters, whose sole solace comes once they’re on the hunt.
Different themes explored embrace the period’s homophobia, the category restrictions that hold males like Sumner and Drax, regardless of their respective training ranges, down on decrease financial rungs, and the “White Man’s Burden” that dominated the 19th century British Empire into believing all folks of shade have been savages and brutes (a theme that recurs in episode 4 to devastating impact). Likewise, O’Connell, Graham, and Spruell give splendidly tactile performances as males combating for his or their piece of the pie when there isn’t any pie available.
“The North Water,” sadly, loses steam as soon as the lads are trapped on an ice cap. That’s when the collection takes a lot of its beats from Werner Herzog’s “Aguirre, the Wrath of God,” because the brutish Cavendish, particularly, fights for management. His wrestle for energy would carry better weight, as would Sumner’s journey towards peace and redemption if Drax weren’t so flatly drawn. He’s pure evil. And as a lot as Farrell tries, there are not any layers he can add to the character. As an alternative, the collection runs aground into Haigh making an attempt to tug profound parts from Sumner when none exists. He’s merely a damaged, drug-addled man cheated out of the comfy, honorable life he thought was meant for him.
The present’s ultimate shot left me chilly. Haigh’s “The North Water” possesses each psychological and humanist part required to elucidate the character of fine and evil, together with all the shades in between, however, wastes an excessive amount of effort making an attempt to find profound significance relatively than fortifying its lackluster characters.