Scott of the Antarctic



      R E V I E W

      EALING FILMS (1948)

      Country of Origin:




      Original Release Date:

        7 December 1948 (UK)

      Filming Locations:

        Ealing Studios, Ealing, London, England

        Falmouth Docks, Falmouth, Cornwall, England
        (Scott's departure)

        Falmouth, Cornwall, England

        Graham Land, Antarctica
        (stock footage)

        Jungfrau, Kanton Bern, Switzerland


      Directed by:

        Charles Frend

      Writing credits:

        Walter Meade (screenplay) &
        Ivor Montagu (screenplay)

        Mary Hayley Bell (additional dialogue)

      Produced by:

      Original Music by:

        Ralph Vaughan Williams

      Cinematography by:

        Osmond Borradaile (director of photography)
        Jack Cardiff (director of photography)
        Geoffrey Unsworth (director of photography)


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      CAST (in credits order)

      John Mills ... Captain R.F. Scott R.N.
      Diana Churchill ... Kathleen Scott
      Harold Warrender ... Dr. E.A. Wilson
      Anne Firth ... Oriana Wilson
      Derek Bond ... Captain L.E.G. Oates
      Reginald Beckwith ... Lt. H.R. Bowers R.I.M.
      James Robertson Justice ... P.O.'Taff' Evans R.N.
      Kenneth More ... Lt. E.G.R. 'Teddy' Evans R.N.
      Norman Williams ... Chief Stoker W. Lashly R.N.
      John Gregson ... P.O. T. Crean R.N.
      James McKechnie ... Surgeon Lt. E.L. Atkinson R.N.
      Barry Letts ... Apsley Cherry-Gerrard
      Dennis Vance ... Charles S. Wright
      Larry Burns ... P.O. P. Keohane R.N.
      Edward Lisak ... Dimitri
      Melville Crawford ... Cecil Meares

      Christopher Lee ... Bernard Day
      John Owers ... F.J. Hooper
      Bruce Seton ... Lt. H. Pennell R.N.
      Clive Morton ... Herbert Ponting F.R.P.S.
      Sam Kydd ... Leading Stoker E. McKenzie R.N.
      Mary Merrett ... Helen Field
      Percy Walsh ... Chairman of Meeting
      Noel Howlett ... First Questioner
      Philip Stainton ... Second Questioner
      Desmond Roberts ... Admiralty Official
      Dandy Nichols ... Caroline
      David Liney ... Telegraph Boy




        Sir John Mills is Captain Scott in a thrilling account of how the dangerous 1912 expedition to conquer the South Pole ended in catastrophe. Although beaten in the arctic race by Norway, the bravery of the ill-fated explorers as they battled blizzards on the treacherous glaciers captured the hearts of the British public and became a legend.

        OFFICIAL BLURB, Video Release

      Well that may well be the case but it doesn't tell half the story. On face value this is a faithful retelling of the myth of Scott's last expedition created by his widow Kathleen Scott, Sir Clements Markham (President of the Royal Geographical Society) and Reginald Smith, the publisher of Scott's diaries. Indeed there is plenty of British stiff-upper-lip in the face of adversity and on the first few viewings I thought that this was all that it was: a piece of Scott propaganda beautifully shot with an ethereal soundtrack.

      Repeated viewings, however, reveal a far deeper, more complex tale. This was made in the late 1940s and though Scott's widow died in 1947 their son Peter was about, wealthy and very much part of the establishment (so much so that he actaully stood as a Conservative candidate unsuccessfully in the 1945 general election in Wembley North) as well as any of the survivors of the expedition. Captain Scott's endevours had long-since passed into British-folklore. Every child knew the story and the words of Oates as per the diary of Scott (did he really utter those words and who undid the tent ties for him to go outside?):

        "I am just going outside and may be some time"

      For the children on the 1940s and earlier Scott's long march to the South Pole was the equivalent of the lunar landings for the kids of the 1960s and beyond. It was the last place on Earth to be discovered; the last frontier. In the movie, Scott was portrayed by John Mills, a man who epitomised all that was great in 1940s Britain and, as such, loved by British audiences like no other actor before or since. Scott, by association, was John Mills though it must be admitted Mills bore more than a passing physical resemblance to Scott.

      In this context, to have criticized Scott openly in the film would have been considered tantemount to treachery. But dig a little deeper and even in 1948 criticism is there, long before Scott's reputation seriously began to fall from grace from Reginald Pound's 1966 biographer onwards. Examples of this that I can see in the film are thus:

      • The sequence in which Scott calls on the country home of Wilson to ask him to join him on the Terra Nova Expedition is astonishing. Firstly because it is bathed in the kind of dreamlike colour that must be found in Heaven. It has an ethereal, other-worldly feel - it's almost in slow motion. More on this and the cinematography Jack Cardiff later but more importantly here is the utter look of hatred that Wilson's wife has for Scott when he arrives and upon listening to Scott's proposals for taking her husband on the expedition. To me, the look borders on utter contempt for the man, as though she believes that this man is only calpable of leading her husband to catastrophe. Watch specifically for Oriana Wilson's expressions towards Scott the next time you watch the film. Wonderfully played by Anne Firth.

      • His desperation to be first to the Pole with inadequate, dare I say, appalling planning and resources is highlighted. To completely disregard the advice in Norway about dogs is, to me, arrogance in the extreme though he wasn't alone in his thinking, I must admit. The use and non-use of the dogs on the final leg is nothing short of scandalous.

      • His last-minute decision to take a fifth man to the Pole when supplies had been calculated for a four-man team was arrogance in the extreme. He kept the decision to himself, told the men at the last minute ... it all seems unnecessarily cruel to e. The Kenneth More and John Gregson characters missed out on the final leg though they can console theselves with the fact that they made the more successful Genevieve a few years later! But seriously why do it? Why make such a stupid call to take five men?

      • Shackleton is mentioned alot in the film by Scott. It borders on the fanatical. He is constantly mentioned like a curse. But why couldn't Scott have shown the same compassion to his men that Shackleton had shown in turning back rather than rising the lives of his men? Nowhere in the film does Scott show anything substantial towards his men; rather it is the quest to reach the South Pole that supercedes everything in his mind. Little gestures of kindness he sprinkles here and there for his men do make up for the fact that he did not show anything like the leadership Shackleton showed towards his men on a daily basis. But he beat Shackleton's Furthest South achievements and I have no doubt for Scott this meant more than the lives of his men at the time.

      • None of Scott's questionable decisions are challenged by subordinates bound by Royal Navy discipline. All his decisions are met in obedient silence. No-one dares to question him let alone reproach him. To me that is a failure no matter how old the custom is.

        The scenes at the Pole are particularly telling. When the British reach the Norwegian camp it is Wilson who enters their tent, while Scott tells Bowers to "check the position". Wilson's look of disgust emphasises Scott's refusal to face hard reality at a critical moment. That scene almost leaves you speechless.

        Scott is not alone in his shortcomings - indeed, they seemed to have rubbed off on his men. As the film itself reveals Evans injured his hand before the final leg so why couldn't he have informed his colleagues and ruled himself out of the final push to the South Pole? Because this expedition was made up of individuals and wasn't a team due to the fact that Scott was just not good enough leader of men to ould the into a unit. Why did Oates feel the need to sacrifice himself? What mental pressure was he put under to do so? Was this really the only answer? Was an expedition so badly prepared that the only course when he became injured was to kill himself? Forgive me if I'm missing something but I have never read of Shackleton ask this of his men. Stopping Bowers from going after Oates in the film says it all. How can an expedition be brought to this?

      • I know it was part of Edwardian society but did the men really have to be segregated according to ran in the dark hut as seen briefly in the film? By contrast, Shackleton's hut some 12 miles away is light and friendly. I would just liked to have seen Scott for once in his life break rank with convention and made all his men equal as they had all gone on this dangerous expedition and giving everything to it. But sadly it was not to be. Even his Message To The Public plea for 'those who are dependent on us are properly provided for' reflected rank when the proceeds were divided (though Scott himself didnot specify this). Throught the Mansion House Scott Memorial Fund the equivalent of 5.5 million was raised. Scott's faily received the most and families of the other 4 received an amount dependant on rank. Thus Evans's family received the least, the equivalent of just over 100,000. Why?

      Mills thought this one of his greatest roles. I agree: he is superb. But even the likeability of the leading star can not make me like Scott. I think he threw away the lives of the 4 other men in pursuit of personal glory. He seemed an adequate sort of guy in the film though there is nothing in the way of the personal charisma that marks all the really great leaders.


      Saying all that, I do love this film. It is a work of art mainly for two reasons: the cinematography and the soundtrack. Martin Scorsese described watching the work of the cineatography Jack Cardiff as being 'bathed in light'. If you have seen two of his other works from this era, the Powell/Pressburger A atter of Life and Death and Black Narcissus then you will know what he means and here Cardiff is equally as good. The colour is hauntingly atmospheric, vibrant, colour that illuminates Heaven in my mind's eye. Cardiff was heavily influenced by the light he saw in the paintings of Vermeer, van Gogh and Turner and he uses the palette of film to create his masterpiece. He captures the coldness of the Antarctic (though much of the exteriors were shot in Switzerland and Norway) so uch so that you actually feel cold just watching it! Unforgettable.

      The second reason is the music by Vaughan Williams. It is an eerily melancholic echo of the tragic expedition. The music haunts you and conveys the gravitas of the epic failure.

      I can't recomend this film highly enough. The UK Dvd is an Ealing Films productions and like all their Dvd releases the artwork is just lazy. A top notch graphic designer could have created a cover that would have befitted this film but sadly it has left in the hands in what I suspect was a mediocre in-house designer and we are left with blandness.

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      Further Reading

    • Captain Scott
    • Scott's Last Expedition: The Journals of Captain R.F.Scott
    • I Am Just Going Outside: Captain Oates - Antarctic Tragedy
    • Scott and Amundsen : Last Place on Earth


    • Format: PAL
    • Region:Number of Discs: 1
    • Classification: U
    • Studio: Ealing Studios

    • DVD Release Date: 13 Nov 2006
    • Run Time: 107 minutes

    • Price: 12.99 (UK Sterling) (This will only be dispatched to a UK address)

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