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New Release Review - CAPTAIN WEBB

True story of the first man to swim the English channel.


Review by Troy Balmayer

Directed by: Justin Hardy

Starring: Hannah Tointon, Warren Brown, Steve Oram



"Not as dramatic as one would like for such a dramatic event as crossing the cold Channel, but it has a gentile feel about it, and it’s acted well to tell a story of a man who deserves his story to be told."


Based on the true feat of former merchant Navy man Matthew Webb, this light drama keeps its head above the water in giving us an insight into a figure a lot of people may have never known about or even heard of. I feel that I’ve learnt about an inspirational person after seeing his mission take place and if that’s one main aim for the filmmakers then they’ve certainly achieved it.
After attaining a Stanhope Medal, Matthew Webb (Warren Brown) finds himself out of the Navy and with little money. Possibly facing having to follow his father and brother’s wishes, he moves away and gains help from Professor Beckwith (Steve Oram) to learn the art of swimming professionally. It isn’t long until Webb states he will swim the English Channel to outdo an American, but also to prove to himself he can do it.
The writing by Jemma Kennedy is of a slick quality, and this film, as clearly British as it is, has that undeniable wit about it. There is that dramatic bio-pic structure but behind that lies some comedy dazzle. The use of comedic actors like Oram helps give a zany edge to the characters and a red white and blue patriotism to proceedings. The back and forth narrative of the movie can become a little unstuck though, as if meandering about in the shallow end trying to do better. There’s a few times that jumping between scenes, flashbacks and the like get in a teeny muddle and start distancing you from the interest gained beforehand.
Justin Hardy gives the film a well thought look; in adapting Kennedy’s screenplay, the narrative swims about in time and character backgrounds surface smoothly with present day shots. It has a definite vision of appearing like a Sunday evening TV drama, not that’s a bad thing; it has that television slot going for it which would entice many viewers for a BBC drama of similar calibres. The slow motion of drowning pasts is handled just as well as the quicker, literally more electrifying moments, like Webb caught up in a tangle of jellyfish.
The design of the film is good, a period piece but not dull and typically static of the Victorian era. The clothes are fun, namely with Prof. Beckwith giving colour and eccentricity to the costume department. The swimming idea is something that seems everyday now, but back then it becomes apparent that people weren’t used to the idea of submerging in H2O and the medal for saving a fallen seaman wasn’t overly a heroic achievement; as the film says, sailors lost to sea should learn how to drown peacefully to save ships turning back to help them. Harsh, but you could understand that reasoning. It doesn’t always look like a film set over 100 years ago but then certain moments make you remember it’s based in the 1800s.
Warren Brown is a fine specimen as the frog legged English Channel hopeful. It’s a role that sees him becoming wholly committed, even in the face of possible impossibility. Salted grazes, stings and beatings won’t stop Webb, and Brown does a great job of portraying that stiff upper lip to set out and do something to the end. Steve Oram is fun as the helpful master to Webb, engaging in jokey slurs and throwing apples at the man; Oram gives the movie a helpful lift in terms of light entertainment. Georgia Maguire is the obvious love interest for a film of needed push to help Matthew Webb along, but she displays that beautiful innocence and you do sort of root for them to become one. Hannah Tointon is a right stuck up madam as Madeline but she’s a delicious snarky addition to the story. Terry Mynott makes me laugh with his over induced showman American routine, accent, make-up and all. I know him from the show The Mimic and he’s a fine talent, but he doesn’t overly prove that here, apart from being the pantomime villain.
Not as dramatic as one would like for such a dramatic event as crossing the cold Channel, but it has a gentile feel about it, and it’s acted well to tell a story of a man who deserves his story to be told.




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