Monday, September 19, 2016

Admirable "Admiral"

Yes, I have crawled out of my cave to make a blog post.  And while it is about a movie, it's not a particularly geeky movie.  Unless you are a history geek like me.

Last night on Netflix I watched Admiral, a 2015 Dutch film about Admiral Michiel De Ruyter who consistently beat the British Royal Navy during the Second and Third Anglo-Dutch Wars.  The film stars Frank Lammers in the title role and has Charles Dance doing an excellent job as a thoroughly debauched King Charles II of England.  There is also a cameo by Rutger Hauer at the beginning of the film as Admiral Maarten Tromp.  The film is mostly in Dutch but the scenes taking with Charles are in English.

To a large extent this is a standard biopic, but for Anglo-American audiences not overly familiar with Dutch history it provides a good lesson on the intricacies of the Netherlands' internal politics in the mid-17th century.  The film manages to get across the sometimes violent political upheavals of the time between the Republicans and the Orangists without getting bogged down in talking. De Ruyter's friend and patron Johan de Witt seeks to strengthen the merchant class and republican form of government while fighting a series or wars with England while William, the Prince of Orange starts off as a rather ineffectual buffoon being used by the aristocrats while learning to be his own man and a ruler in his own right.  Both men are not above using De Ruyter for their own political ends and De Ruyter allows himself to be used because he seems himself as a patriot first.  This unfortunately leads to his down fall.

De Ruyter, besides being a Dutch patriot, is portrayed as a loving family man who is constantly caught between duty and family.  He also seeks to improve his nation's navy and the lot of the regular sailor.  Lammers shows a great emotional range in the complex motives of the man.

This is a film of truly epic scope with multiple naval battle scenes that manage to give a really good impression of just how brutal warfare during the age of sail could be while not falling into the trap of graphic ultra-violence.  The cinematography on land is incredibly lush and does an excellent job of evoking the 17th century.  And I cannot even begin to praise the production design and costume design in it's overall accuracy.  All of this was done on a budget of about eight million euros, so there is a lesson in there somewhere for Hollywood.

Overall I truly loved this film but I have two basic complaints.  The first is that the events in it cover a period of 25 years from 1653 to 1678.  Now of course you can't cover everything that happened to the major characters.  But the film gives no idea that such a large amount of time is covered.  At the beginning De Ruyter is a middle aged man with several young children and at the end he is still a middle aged man with young children.  No one ages.  No changes.  Unless one is already somewhat familiar with the era you could come away with the idea that everything is happening over the space of only a couple years.

The other complaint, and this is my history geek coming through, is the English ships are always shown flying the Union Jack.  Since this flag didn't exist before the Act of Union between England and Scotland in 1707 it is a very jarring anachronism to me.  I'm sure the director thought it would make it easier for a modern audience to keep track of which ship is on which side but this could just as have been done by showing English officers speaking on the deck of a ship flying the Cross of St. George, especially since the Dutch ships were all shown flying the present Dutch tricolor.

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