Admiral full movie review - Bestevaêr
This epic movie tells the story of Michiel de Ruyter, a Dutch naval hero, from the Battle of Scheveningen in 1653 to his state funeral in 1677.
This was a fascinating and important period in the Dutch Golden Age, so many of the key events during that period are shown. The movie has four main themes.
The first theme is Golden Age Holland. The film succeeds spectacularly in not just recreating this rich world, but in giving us a proper feel of what it might have been like. The scenes with Holland Renaissance architecture in the background are beautiful. Several times during the movie, I was startled by a scene's resemblance to Vermeer or another Dutch painter. This was quite overtly and cleverly done. At one point, we see an artist (Rembrandt?) walking by with a canvas casually held under this arm!
The second theme is de Ruyter's home life. We are shown in some detail his relationship with his wife (Anna) and children. Anna is portrayed as a typically strong and passionate Dutch woman. Director Roel Reiné uses the devices of a strong wife and domesticity as a way of conveying how de Ruyter represents traditional national values. As Schama also explains, "Home?was both a microcosm, and a permitting condition, of the properly governed commonwealth." De Ruyter, and de Witt too for that matter, are shown as family men, ordinary men who eschew pomp and get the job done. They are not just heroes; they embody Dutch values.
The third theme is the turbulent Dutch political scene of the time. This small democratic nation was amassing great wealth and building an empire, but it was besieged by France and England and riven by internal squabbling. The writers succeeded in bringing these long-forgotten political issues to life for the viewer. And to their credit, they included a scene portraying in detail the most shocking event in all of Dutch history, i.e. the mob murder, disembowelment and dismemberment of the de Witt brothers. The filmmakers admirably show and explain this barbarism (but they fail to explain why it was so barbaric). The portrayal of William III and Charles II was also surprising and fascinating. Some of it left me uncomfortable however, but I'll reserve judgment on this point.
The fourth theme was naval warfare. Several chunks of the movie were devoted to showing this, which is to be expected for a film about a naval hero. It is always difficult to show naval warfare on film in a way that doesn't reduce it to cannon explosions and showers of wood splinters. I can't remember a film that undertook to do this so realistically but in a way that the audience could understand. I have to admit I was a little confused about what was going on exactly. Was it all accurate? I don't know. However, apart from the obvious CGI, it seemed realistic enough and gave me a feeling of what it might have been like.
How complete and accurate was this movie? It really was a large bite to chew on, so I suppose it's inevitable that some things were missing or inaccurate. For example, de Ruyter's children did not age at all during the 24-year period. Another example: The filmmakers chose to completely sidestep the role religion played in the political turmoil. And they ignored de Ruyter's activities in the Caribbean around 1665 and 1674. These are all fairly important aspects, but I suppose the movie makers needed to take a few liberties to tell a good story in only 2.5 hours.
The acting was fine. This movie was interesting, despite the repetitive elements. I was moved at times. And I was horrified by the mob tearing apart the de Witt brothers. The movie was clearly walking a fine line between entertaining and informing. Yes, this movie was sappy, melodramatic and a little over the top at times. There is always some stereotyping, sensationalism and gratuitous sexiness in Dutch movies, and this is no exception. At least the maudlin aspects were toned right down (although they did peep out at the end).
So that brings me to my final point: Reiné and his writers were clearly doing something big here. This is not just a movie about de Ruyter; this is a big movie about the Dutch and how they see themselves in the world. I think it worked.
It struck a patriotic chord in me, of the kind that you see all the time in American movies or of the kind an English moviegoer might feel while watching Elizabeth I on the cliffs giving a stirring speech. I can't explain it because I've never felt this in a Dutch movie before. It startled me. Or at least the lack of subtlety about it startled me. De Ruyter is a great Dutchman who is long dead and almost forgotten, and yet somehow the movie made him, and Holland, matter to me. Why shouldn't a Dutch movie be stirring? Other countries do it. We have a lot to be proud about.
The movie is worth about 8.5. Not to be missed.