Ronald Neame was the cinematographer, and the only shots that don't stand out are those drawn from stock footage of battles. Otherwise, each shot is wonderfully clear and clean, beautifully lit and framed. The opening, with its documentary style of the building of the ship that is the feature of the story, has taken lessons from Eisenstein, perhaps.
It's a little difficult now to feel so emotional about the ship, but the actors - in particular, Coward - give us every reason to do so. Coward is a very upper middle-class Captain, humane and generous: the very model of a proper Naval Captain. Celia Johnson plays his wife and they have some warm scenes together in the various flashbacks that fill up most of the film's centre (Daniel Massey, aged nine, appears as Coward's young son. He would later play Coward himself in Star). Bernard Miles is the Chief Petty Officer, and we get to see some of his home life too; Joyce Carey plays his wife and Kathleen Harrison his mother-in-law.
|Production shot from the movie|
There are many other familiar names: Richard Attenborough (as a young seaman who deserts his post), Derek Elphinstone, Philip Friend, Hubert Gregg, James Donald, Lionel Grose, Lesley Dwyer, to name just a few.
The film's shape is a little odd: it begins with a superb sea battle, moves to the loss of the ship that's so important to the film, and to the drifting of a dozen or so seamen on a raft. From this point, we shift back and forth between the raft and the characters' back stories: these are developed to a degree, but they don't contribute to a unified whole. Nor does the ship itself really make us feel it's the centre of the story, which means there's a kind of lack in the structure. For all that, the film moves along at a good pace, and the direction and acting keep us from noticing too much about how it's all put together.
It's also perhaps difficult in hindsight to feel comfortable with Coward in such an authoritarian role, but when the film was first shown there would have been little difficultiy for the audiences in accepting him as shown. We've long since moved past the point when Coward was such a star in both the theatre and the movies.