“Wow, that was really interesting for a true story!” declared Danny (my twelve year old son) at the end of The Finest Hours preview.
Disney’s The Finest Hours movie is based on the incredible true story of one of the greatest sea rescues of all time.
The film is set in the 1950’s and shows the warm human side of this extremely cold “small lifeboat” rescue. We see how Bernie Webber (Chris Pine) meets his wife-to-be Miriam (Holliday Grainger). The film shows them as a young engaged couple during the storm and operation (in real life they had actually married two years previously). Miriam really did ask Bernie to marry him which was forward thinking in the 1950’s and he really did say no initially, but thankfully changed his mind by the end of the date.
On February 18th, 1952, a massive storm struck New England, damaging towns and wreaking havoc on the ships caught in it’s deadly path, including the Boston Bound SS Pendleton T2 oil tanker. The tanker was literally cut in half, a startling fact only realised by the crew when they thought they saw another tanker coming towards them and then saw that that horrifyingly it was actually the other half of their own ship. This left at least thirty men trapped inside the rapidly sinking stern.
The now most senior officer on board, First Assistant Engineer, Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck), realised he had to act fast. He took charge of the frightened crew, inspiring them to put aside their differences and work together to ride out the deadliest storm to ever hit the East Coast. The ship had broke apart too quickly for them to even send out a distress call. The only thing still working was a little portable radio receiver, their only hope was the local Coast Guard.
The Coast Guard were kept extremely busy on the night of the storm as unbelievably two tankers broke in half. Crew Members from Chatham Lifeboat Station had already gone out and responded to the earlier mayday from the Fort Mercer, the other tanker in distress.
Realising that another tanker needed their help, the Warrant Officer, Daniel Cluff (Eric Bana) ordered a daring operation, to rescue the stranded men. He ordered Bernie to pick a crew to take out the 36500 lifeboat. Bernie remembered the Life Guard’s Motto, “Semper Paratus”, “Always Ready” and willingly obeyed. Bernie first looked for volunteers, he asked as a courtesy,”Who’ll come with me?” Richard Livesey (Ben Foster) was the first to bravely raise his hand. Mel, Bernie’s best friend, also volunteered but it was clear that he was too sick so Andy Fitzgerald (Kyle Galner) said he would replace him. They still needed a fourth member and looked around the room. Ervin Maske (John Magaro), a guest at the station, just awaiting a boat home, could have ignored this call, but he stood up to be counted and informed them that he was also a member of the Coast Guard at a different station and would happily volunteer with them.
The storm is so strong, it seemed unlikely that the little life boat would even get out past the bar, let alone get to the tanker. The experienced fishermen suggested that Bernie and his crew should “get lost” and return to shore before they get out too far, but Bernie was determined and remembered the unofficial Coast Guard motto:
“You have to go out but you don’t have to come back.”
Despite overwhelming odds, the four men left behind their loved ones and set out in their small wooden lifeboat with an ill equipped engine and no navigation. They faced frigid temperatures, 60 foot high waves and hurricane force winds.
We watched the film in Imax 3D at Empire, Leicester Square and the experience was incredible. It was thrilling to see the huge waves crashing on the big screen.
At the end of the film photos of the true heroes were shown during the end credits. I had goosebumps seeing the real characters, newspaper clippings and medals shown on the screen. It brought home that real people had actually lived this. It must have been terrifying.
If you hadn’t heard of the Pendleton rescue before the film then you will definitely want to know more after. On the way home, Danny and I read our copy of The Finest Hours book by Michael J Tougias and Casey Sherman and Googled to find out which parts of the film really happened (only a few details sway away from the true story).
The main truths run throughout the film: how four men were willing to risk their lives, how a seemingly impossible rescue was carried out and how all the locals listened in on the radios and did their best to help too.
“Disaster movies” are not what normally springs to mind when we think of Disney, but the miracle that any men came home from the brutal storm to tell their stories is certainly a Disney happy ending.
“We all live or we all die.”
Disney’s The Finest Hours (PG-13) is out in cinemas now. Find tickets here.