Words of Captain Scott on ITV – Review

by Matt D

With the anniversary of the Titanic looming a lot of the current TV programming seems to be focused on the 1910s and to capitalise on this ITV1 are airing a documentary about Captain Scott’s fatal mission across the Antarctic which took place between 1910 and 1913.

Words of Captain Scott uses diaries and letters written by him and others involved in his mission to tell the story from the perspective of those who were there. Actors are used to bring these words to life led by Dougray Scott, who I don’t believe is a relation, as the man himself changing from both the expedition diaries and the letters to his wife Kathleen. Other members of his team who are represented through these letters are zoologist Apsley Cherry-Garrard, ship’s stock-keeper Henry Bowers, the famous companion Captain Oates and the team’s medic Dr Edward Wilson here played by Alistair McGowan.

A lot of the words read are from the men’s letters to their parents and significant others as they sailed away on the ship the Terra Nova in 1910. The combination of the narration and the recitation of the letters is played over both actual footage of the expedition as well as reconstructions which gives the viewer a better idea of what the men were going through at the time of writing.

The documentary also recounts the story of Scott’s rival the Norwegian Roald Amundsen who has decided to try and conquer the South Pole after already being beaten by another party to get to the North Pole first. Amundsen’s journey was kept a secret to most until he arrived there and we know a lot about his thoughts through his letters to fellow explorer Fridtjof Nansen. These letters are read by Lars Mikkelsen, known to most as Troels Hartmann from The Killing, who has grown a full wilderness beard and out of the actors present looks most like a grizzled explorer. As most of us know Amundsen finished his mission first so when Scott and friends got there they found that their expedition had been fruitless.

The mission back was essentially the last straw for Scott, Bowers, Oates, Wilson and fifth team member Edgar Evans as their supplies started to run out and the cold began to get to them. Back in England meanwhile we see the letters from Kathleen Scott becoming more frantic hoping that her husband is alright but in her heart fearing the worse. The diaries from Cherry-Garrad reveal that he trekked to the supply store to try and meet up with the explorers but after they didn’t turn up he found them frozen to death in a tent.

I feel what should of been promoted as part of this documentary is that for the first time Scott’s descendants have allowed the leather case found with his body to be opened. In the case is the final letter that he wrote to Kathleen and that she wrote to him as well as pictures of her and their son. These two letters are read to finish the programme which really makes you contemplate whether Kathleen ever thought her husband was coming back but never makes you doubt their love for each other you could even say that some may well up by the end of the show.

I could imagine watching a documentary like Words of Captain Scott while I was a school even to the point of imagining the laughter that would erupt when Wilson mentions that he had to sleep in only his pants. This isn’t neccesarily a bad thing though as this is a captivating documentary with an interesting take on the story and new information via the use of the letters and diaries. The actors who partake mostly recite the letters in such a way as to convey the emotions of their characters however they never move from a stationary position reading directly into the camera while wearing coats, scarves, jumpers and other such clothing which would keep you warm on an expedition similar to Scott’s.

Of the actors used I thought the stand-outs were Leo Bill and Max Irons as Bowers and Cherry-Garrad respectively but the stand-out for me was Lars Mikkelsen who gives Emundson a little bit more emotion than everybody else lends to their role. The use of as much real-life footage as the documentary-makers could get their hands on is also very interesting as is the final scene in which we finally hear the letters in the case that has remained unopened for almost 100 years.

Overall a thought-provoking look at a subject that I personally only knew a little bit about with my only real criticism being that ITV1 should’ve aired this earlier than 10:35pm on a Friday night a time which most people are either asleep or out on the town so my recommendation to you would be to put this on the Sky Plus box as it really is a very interesting programme.