This special from the Discovery Channel examines the historical accuracy of the film Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. The program explores naval warfare in the 19th century and the construction secrets of the USS Constitution, which the movie’s Acheron was a based on. A descendant of Admiral Thomas Cochrane reveals the similarities between the screen exploits of Russell Crowe and the real-life heroics of his ancestor.
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Here is the original information on the show from the Discovery Channel:
“Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World premiered in 2003 and received 10 nominations for Academy Awards, including best picture. It was directed and co-written by celebrated Australian director Peter Weir, famous for movies The Truman Show and Dead Poets Society. The movie was drawn from the 20-volume series of seafaring novels by Patrick OBrian, following the exploits of Captain Jack Aubrey [Russell Crowe] and his close friend, surgeon Stephen Maturin [Paul Bettany].
OBrian’s novels were meticulously researched, and closely follow historical events. But in distilling 20 volumes down to a single feature the team behind the movie had to not only borrow incidents from several books, but also further bend the historical framework for creative effect. So the events of the movie are set in 1805 – when Britain fought the French – rather than 1812, when Britain was at war with the United States. As Peter Weir reveals in our film, it would have been problematic to follow OBrian’s original narrative, since it would have meant Russell Crowe, playing the part of a British captain, fighting against Americans. The studio – who came up with the $150million budget for this lavish movie – would never have allowed the hero to be pitted against the USA.
[This] documentary also explores the fascinating historical backdrop to naval warfare in that era. Jack Aubrey’s opponent is a French skipper in charge of a warship called the Acheron. We learn that this ship is built to a radical new design, which makes her faster and stronger than anything else on the sea. In reality, the Acheron is closely modeled on USS Constitution, one of the first warships ever constructed by the fledgling USA in 1797. Constitution was built partly from a rare timber species called ‘southern live oak’, which only grows in the Americas and is far superior to the white oak used in British ships of the time. It allowed the Constitution to carry heavier outer planking – her ‘armour plating’ – and also explains why she was faster than her rivals. Like the super ship in the movie, Constitution was invincible in combat and played a critical role in the war of 1812.
[This] documentary includes the first ever laboratory comparison of the strength of live oak and white oak – and we also test its ability to withstand gunfire with an original British cannon from 1812. We also reveal the degree to which the character of Jack Aubrey is based on a true historical character – the remarkable Lord Thomas Cochrane – one of the outstanding fighting captains of his day. His great great great grandson – the Earl of Dundonald – reveals in a rare interview the extraordinary similarities between the screen exploits of Russell Crowe and the real life adventures of his illustrious ancestor.”
Courtesy of the Discovery Channel.