To The Ends Of The Earth, BBC2

by | Jul 6, 2005 | All, Reviews

What to say if you liked it

A sterling adaptation of William Golding’s novel of skulduggery at sea.

What to say if you didn’t like it

Carry On Columbus without the laughs, but with the cripplingly inept acting and drama.

What was good about it?

• The superbly drawn characters well-acted by the cast such as naïve, pompous Edmund Talbot (Benedict Cumberbatch), the laconic, irascible Captain Anderson (Jared Harris), the corruptible penitent Parson Colley (Daniel Evans) and the moral beacon of the crew, First Lieutenant Summers (Jamie Sives). And we’re sure Sam Neill as Mr Prettimen will bring his thespian authority to bear in future episodes.

• The clever manner in which Captain Anderson cannot express his instant dislike of the regal Edmund, which began when he arrogantly bestrode the off-limits quarterdeck, and so articulates it through an exaggerated rage towards Parson Colley and Mr Summers.

• The way in which the limited locations on board the ship are made distinct and each environment maximised by a different set of social rules being in place, leading to different characters possessing varying levels of authority; except Edmund whose nobility by proxy enables him to do pretty much as he pleases. The cabin area is a menagerie where the passengers behave with little regard for their neighbours whether it’s Mr Brocklebank breaking wind or Edmund vomiting; the dinner table is governed by strict etiquette such as when Edmund doubts the word of Miss Granham provoking Mr Prettimen to demand an apology; the quarterdeck is the realm of Captain Anderson evidenced by his humiliation of Parson Colley who inadvertently strays there; and below decks is the hovel of the coarse crewmen who swear and spy and sexually assault Parson Colley which ultimately leads to his death.

• The impressive scenery such as when Edmund strode into the dock where he was overshadowed by the magnificent vessel chartered to transport him to Australia. And the sense that it we were voyaging on board as the ship rocked nauseatingly from side to side.

• When the ship disembarked we followed Edmund’s induction into the voyage, which meant we shared his disgust at the pokey cubby-hole, with streaming leaks, that passed for a cabin for even someone of his elevated station. We were then shown the violent

effect the sea had on his guts as he was paralysed by paroxysms of vomiting, before he eventually stumbled on deck.

• The complex, psychological narrative is communicated well through Edmund’s journal, which acts as an internal monologue for the protagonist and also abridges the chapters of the novel omitted due to time constraints.

• The illumination of the ennui and intrigue of a trip to Australia in the Victorian age which took months to complete and can now be done in just over a day.

• The moral dilemma which assails the conscience of Edmund after Parson Colley’s death. After Summers tells him that he involuntarily instigated Colley’s downfall by going on the quarterdeck, Edmund discovers Colley looked up to him and had hoped to forge a friendship. This makes him determined to solve the mystery of his death, but his investigations are thwarted when Anderson discloses Colley was buggered before he died and such a scandal would ruin the reputation of everyone on board and so Edmund meekly agrees to Mr Brocklebank’s “official version” that Colley died of a “low fever”. – a diagnosis he supported by declaring it’s the opposite of a high fever (only then to fall drunkenly into his cabin).

• It’s a rare treat to see intelligent drama being aired in July.

• The gratuitous, brief shot of Benedict’s buttocks.

What was bad about it?

• The custom with which Edmund greets everyone where he bows slightly and touches the rim of his top hat.

• A limited number of people who drift through a limited number of rooms with no hope of leaving and dubious sexual shenanigans. Sound familiar? Yes, To The Ends of the Earth shows how ship journeys to Australia were the Victorian precursor to Big Brother.

• The suspiciously impious way in which Edmund arranges a passionate liaison with the flirty Zenobia (reminded us of Rene Zellweger). Firstly, during a storm the ship violently lurches and he just happens to grab her firmly about the waist. He later declines to view the ceremony in which the crew thank Neptune for their safe voyage; “I’ve a headache, I’m going to spend time in my cabin” while standing next to her before tapping the deck balcony. Sure enough, she follows him to his cabin where their noisy lust is drowned out by the ceremony above.

• Victoria Hamilton doing her frumpy Queen Victoria routine.

Luke Knowles

Luke Knowles


Editor of the website and host of the podcast. A general TV obsessive. I've been running the site since 2008 and you can usually find me in front of the TV. My Favourite show of all time is Breaking Bad with Cracker coming a close second. I feel so passionately that television can change the world and I'm doing my little bit by running this site. You're Welcome!


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