The Far Side of the World

Master and Commander

Historical and Character Research

Peter Weir wanted MASTER AND COMMANDER-The Far side of the World to give the audience as accurate a feeling as possible of life aboard a fighting ship of the period. He and his team of historical consultants were relentless in their pursuit of period authenticity.
Young boys, some only eight years old, were often servants or "powder monkeys," running back and forth to the gun deck delivering powder to the gun crews. ln the case of officers, there was a training regimen wherein young gentlemen, many of noble birth, could be taken under the captain's supervision aboard ship as midshipmen, studying and learning the books much as they would in a private school.
There were midshipmen as young as twelve, such as the Lord Blakeney character, played by newcomer Max Pirkis. Weir built up the parts of these younger actors so audiences would set how they were treated on board as equals. "They had to take the injuries, sail the ship, go into battle and fight alongside the men," says Weir.
ln 1805, with Britain's King George III in bis 45th year on the throne, the celebrated carter of the heroic Lord Nelson was soon to come to an end with bis death at The Battle of Trafalgar. War between Britain and France had been a constant throughout Nelson's lifetime and continued through to 1815. Russell Crowe shared Peter Weir's passion for historical and character authenticity.
"The reality of the situation for a man like Jack is that it is a very lonely job", says Crowe. "Every ship's captain l spoke with before we began this film discussed that loneliness aspect, and to be prepared for that. One shared with me a saying 'Not always right, but always certain' - meaning that as captain, you can't transmit any doubts you may have in the middle of a life-threatening situation." Crowe studied the nautical history, lore and skills required as a British Royal Navy captain of the time. He also learned the ins and outs of the ship, and became quite adept at climbing the rigging to the tops. Sailing master captain Andrew Reay- Ellers was one of the consultants who assisted Crowe in his research.
"We helped Russell recreate Jack Aubrey's 20-year naval career," Says Reay-Ellers, "working for hours each week, from the nuts and bolts of every line onboard the ship, to sailing maneuvers, strategy; and that nature of a captain's commando Russell felt that Jack, although as captain would never set a sail personally, was once a midshipman and would have that knowledge. Russell wanted to know everything I was teaching his men, and we went through a condensed version of a lifetime of learning the ship."

click on the picture in order to see the large scan I made

Reay-Ellers was irnpressed with Crowe's dedication to research and training. "He spent hours pouring over diagrams, reading some very dense literature on ship handling strategies, and he rose to the challenge. At the same time, he was learning to play the violin and a type of sword fighting unique to that period and rank. lt's just mind- boggling, the amount of things he was simultaneously learning; he wanted that level of confidence, that air of casual knowledge that he knows every line on the ship, just the way Jack Aubrey would."
Crowe's violin training stems from Lucky Jack's penchant for the instrument and his occasional musical pairings with Stephen Maturin, himself a cellist. Over a period of several months Crowe worked with longtime friend and Australian violin virtuoso Richard Tognetti (who later would help compose the film's score), and with violinist Robert E. Greene, who previously worked with Crowe during A Beautiful Mind.
Preparing to portray Stephen Maturin led Paul Bettany along his own eclectic course of study. "I went with Peter Weir to the Royal College of Surgeons in London to meet with a surgeon there, Mick Crumplin, who was also an historian," recalls Bettany. "Mick was helpful in terms of learning some of the medical procedures of the time, so that l had a grasp of how to perform them in the film."
Bettany also dabbled in dissection during time spent at the Scripps Institute of Oceanographie Study in La Jolla, for background in pre-Darwin knowledge about insects, animals and fish.
To aid in their efforts to bring this era to life, the filmmakers utilised, in addition to their team of consultants, a wealth of historic resources at their disposal, including the cooperation of several museums, access to historical artifacts, paintings, diaries, illustrations, ships logs, original blueprints - as well as the richly detailed world described by Patrick O'Brian. An extensive resource library was housed on the studio lot, and cast and crew were encouraged to take advantage of this resource.



Backgrund Information about the
Napoleonic Wars and the Movie
Master and commander 5: huge photos
Cast and Crew The ships of those times
The crew of the Surprise (from the Premiere documents) The Royal Film Premiere
The Ships and Sets (from the Premiere documents) Creating the most realistic sea storm ever filmed (from the Premiere documents)
Historical and Character Research (from the Premiere documents) A dictionary of nautical terms for Landlubbers
The Captain's Log Musical Evenings with the Captain