This British war movie, based on the novel by Nicholas Monsarrat, was one of Ealing Studio's most successful dramatic productions. Featuring a stand-out performance by Jack Hawkins (pictured) and strong support from Donald Sinden and Denholm Elliott, it has become an all-time British classic.
The story, which takes place during the Battle of the Atlantic, mainly centres on the corvette Compass Rose and the wartime experiences of its commander, Ericson (Hawkins), and her crew. Ericson, the only experienced sailor on board, suffers an emotional crisis arising from his decision to run down survivors of a torpedoed ship in order to attack a suspected lurking German U-boat. As the film progresses, Compass Rose becomes successful in action, and executive officer Lieutenant Lockhart (Sinden) learns about the horrors of war at first hand.
During a refit, Lockhart falls for Wren officer Julie Hallam (Virginia McKenna), while Sub-Lieutenant Morrel (Elliott) discovers his actress wife Elaine (Moira Lister) has been unfaithful.
The film consolidated Jack Hawkins's star status, which he had established with his strong performance the previous year in Ealing's Mandy. The film also features a notable early role from Stanley Baker as cowardly Bennett.
Nicholas Monsarrat was a part-time writer, working as a government officer at the time of his novel's runaway success, and had wanted the rights to The Cruel Sea to go to a British production company. Monsarrat and director Charles Frend, brought together by Ealing's Michael Balcon, got on excellently and Eric Ambler wrote a superb screen adaptation of the 416-page novel, brilliantly condensing its plethora of incident into a compact screenplay without losing the force and atmosphere of the original.