Based on the excellent novel by Ian McGuire, NORTH WATER (2021) is a CBC-produced miniseries about the men aboard a whaling ship in the 1800s. The story is brutal, the landscapes beautiful and savage, and the themes powerful. This is a terrific watch.
The story focuses on Patrick Sumner, a British Army surgeon who survived the Siege of Delhi but with an honorable discharge and a nasty opiate addiction. With nowhere to go to find healing and redemption, he signs up as doctor aboard a whaling ship bound for the Atlantic, a voyage that turns into a battle for survival. Thematically, the story explores man’s animal nature (expressed with some obvious symbolism), whether it’s suppressed (Sumner), freely embraced (Henry Drax), or rationalized (First Mate Cavendish and Captain Browning).
At first, I wasn’t sure about this one, as the first episode does a good job introducing the major characters but otherwise has a bit of a made-for-TV feel to it. Once they all get on the ship and the plot kicks into gear, I was utterly hooked, and the pacing and plot doesn’t let up until a period of peace leading up to the final climax.
The acting is just top notch in this. Jack O’Connell, Stephen Graham, and Sam Spruell are just about perfect in their roles, but Colin Farrell’s portrayal of the brutish, happily amoral, and reasonably evil harpooner Henry Drax blew me away. It’s possibly Farrell’s best role yet; he pretty much chews every scene he’s in.
The sets are also amazing and beautiful, with on-location shoots in the Arctic, meaning every time you see the actors looking utterly miserable and cold, well, that was real. (For those who hate animal violence onscreen, there’s a seal clubbing scene and a whale harpooning scene. Of course, no actual animals are harmed.)
I highly recommend this one if you dug similar series like THE TERROR. I found it a nice surprise, and if you dig the series, be sure to read the excellent book.