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Scott of the Antarctic

Ealing Studios put its distinctively British stamp on Scott of the Antarctic (1948), a documentary-like account of the ill-fated expedition to the South Pole led by Robert Falcon Scott in 1910. Scott and his small party battled all-but-unbearable conditions on the two-year expedition, through which they hoped to be the first explorers to reach the pole. They arrived at their destination in January 1912 - only to discover that Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen had planted his country's flag there a month earlier. On the return trip Scott and his party died of hunger and exposure, only 11 miles from a depot where they would have found food and shelter.

Scott of the Antarctic, in its understated way, celebrates the epic courage of Scott and his men - even though in real life Scott was regarded by many as being too casual and foolhardy in his planning for the tragic expedition. The final shot is of the cross Scott and his men had planted in the snow near where their bodies were found. It bore the message: "To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield." Scott of the Antarctic, nominated as Best Picture at the British Academy Awards, was chosen as the Royal Command Performance film of 1948.

Cast as Scott is John Mills (later to win the title "Sir"), who had established himself during the World War II years as an English screen hero in the understated, stiff-upper-lip tradition. In the documentary Forever Ealing (2002), Mills recalls the hazards of location filming, during which the actors could not rehearse because it was imperative that they walk on virgin snow. On one occasion Mills took one step and disappeared into a crevice because he unwittingly had stepped onto a "bridge" of snow. He says in the documentary that, "If I hadn't had my harness on, I wouldn't be here today."

The film was shot partly in the Swiss Alps and Norway, where the then-new Technicolor monopack system eliminated the necessity of three-strip cameras and their 70-pound film magazines. Additional filming was at Ealing, where the cast learned to abhor the artificial snow known as "fuff."

In Forever Ealing, actor Derek Bond tells of fretting about the delivery of the final words spoken by his character, Captain Oates, who did not want the severe frostbite in his feet to slow down the others and purposely left his tent to wander into a blizzard. As recorded by Scott, Oates said, "I am going outside, and I may be some time," and was never seen again. Bond says director Charles Frend finally cut short his agonizing over the line by snapping, "For God's sake, just say it!" This led to Bond's memorably offhand delivery.

The production was lent many of the personal effects of the explorers, including Captain Scott's log, to add to its authenticity. The stirring score was a rare venture into the world of cinema for the distinguished composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, who later transformed it into his seventh symphony, the "Sinfonia Antarctica." In 2001, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, another acclaimed British composer, presented the world premiere of a sequel to "Sinfonia Antarctica" called "Antarctic Symphony (Symphony No. 8)."

Producer: Michael Balcon, Sidney Cole (Associate)
Director: Charles Frend
Screenplay: Walter Meade, Ivor Montagu, Mary Hayley Bell (additional dialogue)
Cinematography: Osmond Borradaile, Jack Cardiff, Geoffrey Unsworth
Art Direction: Arne Akermark
Original Music: Vaughan Williams
Editing: Peter Tanner
Principal Cast: John Mills (Captain Scott), Diana Churchill (Kathleen Scott), Harold Warrender (Dr. Wilson), Anne Firth (Oriana Wilson), Derek Bond (Captain Oates), Reginald Beckwith (Lt. Bowers), James Robertson Justice (P.O. Taff Evans), Kenneth More (Lt. Teddy Evans).

by Roger Fristoe



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