Sea Wolf howls onto DVD

Monday, 11 April 2011 00:00

“Sea Wolf” is a tense and action-packed two-part TV adaptation of Jack London’s 1904 novel. It concerns the exploits of a ruthless Captain called Wolf Larsen, his soon-to-be first mate Humphrey Van Weyden, and ‘Death’ Larsen, Wolf’s crippled and very bitter brother. The Larsen’s are competing tooth and nail in a Pacific hunt for valuable seal skins, and the welfare of their crews comes a distant second to a good haul.

Wolf (Sebastian Koch – “Black Book”, “The Lives of Others”) commands his sail ship ‘The Ghost’ with brutality, but his men - though terrified - are prepared to risk a mutiny when there is safety in numbers. ‘Hump’ (Stephen Campbell Moore – “Season of the Witch”, Ashes to Ashes) is rescued and thanks to his intelligence is soon promoted to first mate. Torn between Wolf and a back-stabbing crew, his survival hangs in the balance.

Sea Wolf comes to DVDIn parallel, the story follows the trials of brother Death (Tim Roth – Lie to Me, “The Incredible Hulk”) in his thunderous and troublesome steam-ship ‘Macedonia’. On board is well-to-do Maud Brewster (Neve Campbell – the “Scream” series, Party of Five). Maud expects to be taken to Japan but Death has other ideas, such is his obsession with beating his brother to the seals.

The plot twists and turns many times, and has plenty of variety to keep interest levels high for the entire three-hour duration. There is a suspenseful sea battle, tempestuous tussles with the unforgiving elements, and plenty of onboard friction and power-play. The characters are very colourful, as you would expect in this kind of adventure yarn.

Wolf himself proves to be simultaneously enigmatic and brutally direct; one minute he is beating crewmen to within an inch of their lives, whilst the next he is having a philosophical debate with Hump over a glass or five of brandy.

Koch puts in a commanding, multi-faceted performance, full of menacing physicality and soft touches. His moments of vulnerability are just as compelling as his violent outbursts. Wolf’s Achilles Heel is his susceptibility to debilitating migraines. He does his best to hide their onset and effects, but every searing episode is a tense window of opportunity for the crew to get the upper hand.

Campbell Moore does a decent job of conveying Hump’s transition from sea-sick, intellectual wimp to a competent first mate who is prepared to stand up to his overbearing captain, and capable of gaining some grudging respect from the cut-throat crew.  Neve Campbell provides a refreshingly attractive female face amidst all the manly beards, and thankfully there is more to her character than simple eye candy. Maud’s relationship with Hump and interaction with Wolf creates an interesting diversion.

Surprisingly, the one off-note is normally-dependable Roth. The mini-series focuses far more on Wolf and The Ghost’s crew than Death and the Macedonia. Death Larsen does not quite convince as the embodiment of evil everyone keeps making him out to be; rather he appears to be more of a cardboard cliché next to his three-dimensional brother. It probably is not Roth’s fault but it is a shame that despite his ship’s technological advantages, Death lacks dramatic weight.

Fans of big-budget fare such as “Master and Commander” and the “Pirates of the Caribbean” series, as well as leaner TV productions like Hornblower will definitely enjoy “Sea Wolf”. It is exceptionally well put together. Mike Barker (Moby Dick, Lorna Doone) directs with pace and makes the most of the ship environment. He captures and exploits both the vast openness and loneliness of the sea, and the claustrophobic, high-pressure confines of the cabins.

The constantly swaying camerawork evokes the movement of the ship without making the audience feel seasick. The production values are impressively high for a mini-series and everything feels very solid.

The only extra on the DVD is a trailer. The lack of a making-of featurette is regrettable. For example, given how convincing the seafaring is, it would have been nice to see how the actors trained for their roles.

“Sea Wolf” (2009) is released out now on DVD, courtesy of Showbox. The main feature has a running time of 180 minutes approx, carries a ‘15’ certificate and retails for £15.99, or less from

Last modified on Thursday, 10 May 2012 16:37

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