Cast & Crew
In Liverpool, England, in 1837, young brothers Charles and David MacIver, who have inherited a banking and shipbuilding firm from their father, attend the launching of their first steamship, which is intended for use in the British coastal trade. After the mayoress christens the vessel The Gigantic , it sets off down the slipway and promptly sinks. Business rival Josiah Eagles, who operates sailing ships that take emigrants to America, celebrates the disaster. Charles tries to convince David that they must persevere with their plans for steamships, but David refuses, fearing further financial loss. Charles then tells David that he will continue alone and intends to go to Nova Scotia to consult with Samuel Cunard, who operates mail ships between America and Canada. Charles surrenders all his interest in the firm to David and, incognito, books passage on one of Eagles' emigrant sailing ships, the Anne of Liverpool . Eagles is an unscrupulous operator and crams too many people and too much cargo onto the ship, which has a mostly shanghaied, inexperienced crew. Fifty-five days out of Liverpool, the ship encounters a violent storm. Below, in the oppressively crowded deck, the emigrants, many of whom are sick, have exhausted their rations and have no water. Several start a mutiny, and a child dies, despite Charles' efforts. The storm rages on, and the ship sinks. Meanwhile, at his firm's Glasgow office, David tries to save the business and goes to see an old family friend, financier Donaldson. There, he meets Mary Morison, Donaldson's niece, whose father James is Her Majesty's Customs Controller for the port of Glasgow. David asks Donaldson to invest £20,000, but he declines to help. Later, when David is in the process of closing down the Glasgow office and paying off the staff, another rival, George Burns, proposes an amalgamation of their companies, and David readily agrees to the plan. At Lloyd's of London, after checking on the insurance claim on the Anne of Liverpool , Eagles learns that a Canadian ship is arriving with survivors of the disaster. Charles, who is one of the few survivors, attacks Eagles, and becomes further enraged when he learns that David has joined Burns. Later, after the Admiralty invites bids for a steam mail service across the Atlantic, Charles tries to interest several bankers in the venture without success until he happens to meet Cunard, who is in Britain attempting to acquire the mail route. Cunard suggests that they work together, and the Admiralty eventually awards the contract to Cunard, who must then find the funding to finance it. When Charles calls on Donaldson, he is unaware that David, who is about to become engaged to Mary, is attending a party there. Charles meets Mary first and enthusiastically explains to her that he and Cunard have hired famous engineer Robert Napier, and that they want her uncle to back their company. Mary then brings the estranged brothers together again, but David informs Charles that Donaldson is only interested in his company. When Cunard and Napier arrive, however, Mary argues on their behalf, as she believes in the future of steamships. Cunard then suggests that all parties collaborate in the new venture and an agreement is reached. They lay the keel of their first ship, The Britannia , although their plan for a fleet of steamships causes some labor unrest in the shipbuilding trade. Mary finds her affections shifting from David to Charles and tells Charles that she is going to America for a year to stay with her aunt in Vermont. As her father does not approve of steamships, Mary is to sail on Eagles' sailing ship, Queen Mary . The sailing ship is scheduled to leave at the same time as The Britannia in its maiden voyage, and a race between steam and sail is initiated. Just before departure, the rival crews trade insults, and while Mary transfers to The Britannia a brawl erupts. Eventually, both ships leave port. In a heavy storm, The Britannia experiences engine trouble and, even though it hoists a sail, is in danger of capsizing. Mary goes to Charles and they profess their love for each other. When a piece of wood becomes jammed in the starboard paddle box, causing the paddle to stop and the ship to list dangerously, Charles successfully frees it and saves the ship. The Britannia reaches Boston in the record time of two weeks and receives a great welcome. With its triumphant return voyage, the future of steamships is assured.
Ernest A. Royls
Sons of the Sea
In 1838, David MacIver, Canadian shipping magnate Samuel Cunard, and several other businessmen formed the British and North American Royal Mail Steam Packet Company. A few years later, the company won a bid on mail service between England and the United States. The success of mail transport quickly led to transatlantic passenger and cargo service. And as portrayed in the film, one of the company's first steamships, called Britannia, did sail from Liverpool to Boston in 1840. The company would later change its name to Cunard and dominate Atlantic passenger service for decades. Cunard is still operating today (though the company is now part of the Carnival Corporation). Among the famed ships in its fleet are the soon-to-be-retired Queen Elizabeth 2, the massive Queen Mary 2 launched in 2004 and the Queen Victoria due to set sail in December 2007. Not a bad legacy for a company that set out to deliver mail.
In Sons of the Sea, the brothers MacIver are played by Michael Redgrave (as Charles) and Griffith Jones (David). Redgrave, father of actresses Vanessa and Lynn, had already found stardom in Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes (1938). He would go on to a distinguished career in films like The Importance of Being Earnest (1952) and The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962). Redgrave would also receive an Oscar nomination as Best Actor for Mourning Becomes Electra (1947). Griffith Jones found greater success on stage than in the movies. After attending the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, he appeared in London productions such as Lady Windermere's Fan alongside John Gielgud and the Noel Coward play Quadrille opposite Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne. Jones' movie career included a turn as Robert Taylor's rival in A Yank at Oxford (1938) and he played love interest to mermaid Glynis Johns in Miranda (1948). Jones rounded out his career with an impressive 25-year run with the Royal Shakespeare Company.
Redgrave and Jones find themselves in competition not only over business, in Sons of the Sea, but also for the affections of Valerie Hobson. She plays the daughter of a potential backer in the film. Hobson had been signed to a contract by Universal in 1934 when she was just 17-years old. She appeared in a number of films for the studio in a short time, including The Bride of Frankenstein and Werewolf of London (both 1935), before returning to England in 1936. Hobson continued working in the British cinema, in films like Ealing's Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), until 1954 when she married future scandal-plagued Minister of War John Profumo.
Another Sons of the Sea contributor worth noting is screenwriter Emeric Pressburger. Pressburger, half of Britain's critically lauded filmmaking team of Powell & Pressburger, began his writing career in Germany in the early 1930s. He had just five English screenplays to his credit at the time he co-wrote Sons of the Sea.
Finally, it's helpful to place Sons of the Sea in the proper historical context. The film was made at a time when England was suffering under the German Blitz and was urging the U.S. to enter the war. Given the circumstances of the day, it's no wonder Sons of the Sea unabashedly sings the praises of friendship between the U.S. and Britain. The film ends with one such speech, with Cunard, over newsreel footage of the launch of the Queen Elizabeth, saying, "I see that white wave churned by the paddles of the Britannia being a well trodden highway and over it the peoples of America and Britain mixing into one fellowship. Their disputes settled as among friends and their united determination opposing any challenge to human liberty or freedom whenever and wherever it is made." The film's flag-waving likely played well on both sides of the Atlantic. Sons of the Sea would be released in America on February 7, 1942, just two months after the attack on Pearl Harbor and the subsequent U.S. entry into the war.
Producer: Culley Forde, Max Milder
Director: Walter Forde
Screenplay: Derek MacIver (story), Wynne MacIver (story), Gordon Wellesley, Edward Dryhurst, Emeric Pressburger
Cinematography: Basil Emmott
Film Editing: Terence Fisher
Art Direction: Norman Arnold
Music: Jack Beaver
Cast: Michael Redgrave (Charles MacIver), Valerie Hobson (Mary Ann Morison), Griffith Jones (David MacIver), Hartley Power (Samuel Cunard), Margaretta Scott (Susan Donaldson), Bessie Love (Begonia Baggot).
by Stephanie Thames
Sons of the Sea
The original British title of this film was Atlantic Ferry. The film opens with the following written foreword: "A century ago, strong rivalry existed between the ship owners of the two great British ports, Liverpool and Glasgow. And it was the vision and tenacity of young Charles MacIver of Liverpool, which built, against opposition and ridicule, the first fleet of steamships to ply the Atlantic, forming an unbreakable bond of friendship and understanding between the people of Britain and the people of the United States." Although David MacIver was an actual person who was the manager of the Glasgow Steam Packet's offices and eventually joined Samuel Cunard and George Burns to found the British and North American Royal Mail Steam Packet Company in 1839, "Charles" seems to have been invented for dramatic purposes. The Daily Variety review notes that Bessie Love is seen in a quick flash in a ballroom scene. According to the Daily Variety review, the film's running time was 80 minutes. As the British running time was 108 minutes, it appears that the film was cut for its U.S. release. The film concludes with newsreel footage showing the 1938 launching of the ocean liner The Queen Elizabeth.