Damn the Defiant follows the English Captain Crawford (Alex Guinness) and his second-in-charge, Lieutenant Scott-Padget (Dirk Bogarde), during the French Revolution. Captain Crawford returns home while his Lieutenant rounds up recruits who will be forced to board and work with the crew of the Defiant, a large ship capable of handling wild seas and roaring battles against the French. Crawford gives himself a brief opportunity to bid farewell to his wife and consents for his son to join him on the ship as one of the crew.
As the ship and crew set sail with new orders, we learn quickly that friction is brewing among those on board. Captain Crawford and Lieutenant Scott-Padget don’t always see eye to eye on certain matters and decisions, including disciplinary actions and how the men should be punished. Friction continues to grow between the pair, and the battle at sea becomes tenser as the seaman among the Defiant come together for a possible mutiny.
Damn the Defiant is described as a war film with strong moments of drama and history. It’s a fascinating story focusing on respect, teamwork, honour, and grace. Among the many enjoyable aspects of the story, the biggest highlight is witnessing the constant friction and disagreements between Captain Crawford and Lieutenant Scott-Padget. Their on-screen friction is just as dangerous and life-threatening as the war itself, and I questioned countless times what the outcomes would be for these two men. It’s a premise that I found tense and dramatic throughout the entire runtime. Performances, especially from Alec Guinness and Dirk Bogarde, are top-notch. The two leads work wonderfully together, and viewers will feel each character’s frustrations. The dialogue the two share is quite strong and convincing.
Aspects, including visual effects, are impressive, and the ship itself looks incredible. Those who adore old-school battles at sea will enjoy the cannon fire or attempts to commandeer French vessels. Thanks to Director Lewis Gilbert (who would later direct films such as Alfie and Moonraker), the filming style is pleasing here. Most of the action is set on a large ship, and everything feels smooth and perfectly captured, including moments of war and drama.
Overall, while I don’t normally care about history and war films, I’m quite proud to admit that Damn the Defiant grabbed my attention early on and exceeded my expectations. There’s a great drama on display here, and tension builds up nicely towards unexpected conclusions. Performances are raw and realistic, thanks to Alec Guinness and Dirk Bogarde, who both have great on-screen chemistry and share excellent, authentic-feeling dialogue. For its time of release, it’s a wonderful achievement, and Director Lewis Gilbert would later direct more exciting films such as Alfie and various James Bond films, including Moonraker. Damn the Defiant is highly creative and powerful as it sets sail.