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  Riddle of the Sands, The Sailing By
Year: 1979
Director: Tony Maylam
Stars: Michael York, Jenny Agutter, Simon MacCorkindale, Alan Badel, Jürgen Andersen, Michael Sheard, Hans Meyer, Wolf Kahler, Olga Lowe, Ronald Markham
Genre: AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 2 votes)
Review: Early in the twentieth century, yachtsman Arthur Davies (Simon MacCorkindale) found himself wishing to fill his time in the North Sea, making his way around the Frisian Islands near Germany, hoping to chart them to update the maps of the area which he saw as being too behind the times to be truly useful. However, as he sailed round them, he had an encounter with a German family headed by Herr Dollman (Alan Badel), whose daughter Clara (Jenny Agutter) captivated Arthur, although he began to grow suspicious of their interest in him, especially when a conspiracy became apparent...

The Riddle of the Sands was based on the classic adventure novel by Erskine Childers, an interesting chap who was, at the time he wrote it, a fervent British patriot and penning this book to alert the British people to the fact that he thought they were singularly unprepared for an invasion by sea from foreign powers. By the time he died, Childers had had a complete turn around in his love for his country, and was executed during the Irish Civil War for crimes against the nation he had previously fought so hard to protect. All of this - and the fact that his son went on to be an Irish Prime Minister - would sadly be more interesting material for a film than this turned out to be.

It's not that the movie version of The Riddle of the Sands was backing the wrong horse, as the novel had been entertaining readers since it publication in Edwardian times, and many had tried to adapt it to the big screen in the years since. It's just that all concerned seemed far more caught up in the sailing than they were the espionage, which left the audience with a lot of attractive scenes of the yacht cruising through the waters of the North Sea, and not much in the way of excitement. The cast were not a fault, as after all who better to depict the staunch Englishmen of the story than Michael York, playing Carruthers, and Simon MacCorkindale?

Davies and Carruthers are old friends, with the latter working in the Foreign Office in London, so when he gets a letter from his pal telling him to drop everything and travel to the coast of Germany with him, ostensibly because he urgently needs more supplies, he does so. What he actually needs is an ally, and as Carruthers has friends in important places, then he's the man for the job of working out what Dollman has in mind, with Davies' suspicions aroused when he hears the German speaking perfect English with appropriate accent - could he be a traitor to his country with dastardly schemes up his sleeve? You should be able to guess the answer to that even if you don't know the story beforehand.

This should all be building up a great head of steam as the yarn of derring-do is brought to a nailbiting climax, yet somehow it never works out that way. More likely you'll be left feeling that a day out on a boat would be a pleasant way to spend some free time, not something Childers had in mind originally, although that was part of the reason he wrote what he did. This is far too leisurely paced for a thriller, and the lack of action is noted when most of the time with these two heroes is taken up with them doing yet more sailing or skulking about looking for clues. It could be that by 1979, it was simply too far after the fact for this to be successful, so the impression is more that the cast and crew had a rare old time making it, as it does look very classy, but whatever thrills and spills the source contained remained pretty much on the page. Music by Howard Blake.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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