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The wonderful Gill and Cat invited me to take part in their Then and Now blogathon. I decided to review two movies, twenty years a part to fit in with the theme. As Joan Collins featured on one of the banners, it seemed only right to review two movies starring the great lady. The first up is Sea Wife.

Film Title

Sea Wife

Director

Bob McNaught

Starring

  • Joan Collins as Sea Wife
  • Richard Burton as Biscuit
  • Basil Sydney as Bulldog
  • Cy Grant as Number Four

An adventure drama from the 50’s that may not be high art and a tad disjointed, Sea Wife is nonetheless a worthwhile enough movie that holds the attention for its relatively short running time.

In 1942, a cargo ship in Singapore is boarding people before the Japanese Army arrives. They are however soon under attack, causing everyone to evacuate the boat. One a lifeboat, four disparate people end up escaping and separated from everyone else. None of them are really referred to by their real names, instead we get to know them through the nicknames they assign each other. There is military Officer Biscuit, beautiful Sea Wife( who is secretly a nun), bigoted businessman Bulldog and black purser Number Four. Frictions and tensions quickly rise as Bulldog and his prejudiced views belittle Number Four. Also, Biscuit begins to fall in love with Sea Wife, unaware that she is really a nun and is bound by her vows to God. Following being nearly thrown overboard in a storm, near starvation and desperation, they eventually end up washed onto an island. And while they all attempt to think of ways to make it back to civilisation, events take a tragic turn.

Bob McNaught and his direction are passable and do the job, yet can feel rather labored and in need of a fixer upper. The opening stretches of Sea Wife are the best areas of the film, with the attack of the ship and the subsequent introductions to the characters ending up quite fascinating. Sea Wife, while dated, is quite surprising since good doesn’t always triumph over bad here. In most old movies, good often prevails but in Sea Wife there is a definite melancholy to it that marks it out as something different. Plus, the topic of racism is approached with depth and a sensitivity rarely seen in a 50’s movie. Yet there are definitely some parts of the overall product that could have been improved. The sentimental nature is laid on a bit too thick in stretches and I think my biggest gripe was that events, especially when concerning the latter stages, feel rushed in comparison with the parts where we get to know the characters. A tad more expansion and some more back story for all of them would have been a blessing to this film. The flashback device is pretty nifty and well employed, while lending a bit more depth than what the script often gives us. Focusing on the attempts of Biscuit to find Sea Wife after the tumultuous events on the island, it gives more nuance to the film than it really should have. The music score for the film has a real sweeping quality to it, that I really enjoyed and found beautiful to listen to.

As the eponymous character, Joan Collins is the main focal point of the film. Although known primarily for playing super bitches and glamour goddesses, it’s somewhat refreshing to see a very young Joan Collins in a serene and sincere role. There’s a real sweetness to her here and her beautiful face often speaks volumes in terms of feeling. If you’ve only ever thought of Joan Collins as the aforementioned diva, please check out Sea Wife to see another side to her. You may be surprised to see her play a nun, but it actually works. The ever intense Richard Burton is on hand too, with his customary seriousness and brooding, ideal for his part of the pining man. Basil Sydney really gets into character as the horrible racist, whose prejudices and nastiness, are rendered in full villainous form. Finally, we have Cy Grant as the abused yet useful man, who suffers at the hands of Bulldog simply because of his skin colour. It is with the cast that Sea Wife rises above its many flaws. And while their roles are not what you’d call the best written, they all make them work.

No classic of adventure by means, but still owning enough moments and good acting to tide us over, Sea Wife is an interesting movie to be sure.

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