Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

which it is the 2003 movie adaption of a book from the Aubrey/Maturin series.

Review from the point of view of a fan of the Aubrey/Maturin series

The movie was a far more faithful adaption of the original books of Patrick O'Brian into another medium than I had expected. The script's differences to the novel The far side of the World (the 10th book in the Aubrey/Maturin series) are not the mutilation that one sometimes sees in film adaptions of popular novels but are, rather, due to the laws of the medium. Some regrettable changes probably were inevitable. Mainly, the Surprise's opponent is changed from the USS Norfolk (a ficticional ship patterned on the historical USS Essex and its 1812-1814 cruise) to a French ship called Acheron. Probably this was necessary in pandering to US cinema goers. Another differences is that the characters of Horner, Hollom and Higgins are rolled into one (Hollom); Stephen Maturin's assistant Higgins is present but is not murdered. Some reviewers of Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World mentioned that a ship was necessarily a society without women. Obviously these reviewers did not read the book - in The Far Side of the World not only are there women on board but the presence of Mrs. Horner, the gunner's wife, leads to the violent deaths of herself, of Hollom, Higgins and Horner.

Fans of Patrick O'Brian will find a lot of episodes dear to their heart books of the series other than The Far Side of the World, e.g. the least of two weevils, the trepanning, the operation (extraction of a bullet) performed by Stephen Maturin on himself. Some minor characters are played really well, e.g. Padeen Colman. Unfortunately pleasing the fans of the books means some very few scenes look a bit gratuitious to viewers not familiar with the books.

The ship Surprise and particularly its handling are very well rendered. I consider that important as sailing ships were the most complex machinery of the time. Sailors are not shown to just energetically pull on random ropes to no effect (as they sometimes do in other movies) but rather the ship is being sailed. On a close viewing of the movie the attention to detail is obvious: For example when the Surprise is chased by the Acheron, both running before the wind, the wounded Surprise laboriously and painfully slow sets its studding sails - this is in contrast with how quickly and accurately Acheron can be observed to set her own stuns'ls. The cramped feeling on the deck of the Surprise as well as in the scenes below decks is palpable. The only quibbles that I have are that in one or two cases, during the night chase and of Cape Horn, major course changes are accompanied by helm commands but no commands or actions to change the sail trim.

Unfortunately Paul Bettany is miscast for the role of Stephen Maturin (Esteban Maturin y Domanova) - not because Paul Bettany is a bad actor but because he is too good looking. Stephen Maturin is not good looking - he is no beauty to begin with and moreover pays no attention whatever to his appearance.

Not only did Peter Weir wimp out of having an ugly Stephen Maturin, he also makes the disfiguring wound of Tom Pullings (that he had sustained in the action against the renegade Osmanian vessel Torgud in the book The Ionian Mission) into a mere scratch.

One thought that occurred to me when I first viewed the movie in 2003: Wait - Barret Bonden is not a hobbit! (Billy Boyd played Peregrin Took in the 2001-2003 Lord of the Ring movies)

Tomas Schild


Page on the literary original - the Aubrey-Maturin series by Patrick O'Brian

Wikipedia article on the movie

Entry in the Internet Movie Database

H.M.S. Surprise in Mourning - Geoff Hunt in remembrance for an Patrick O'Brian (✝ 2. January 2000)

Impressum gemäß 6 MStV/ 6 TDG: Tomas Schild <>, Lange Furche 31, D-72072 Tübingen.

©Tomas Schild 2003-2015.