This TV miniseries chronicles the true story of 28 men who confront the loneliness of endless ice after their foundering ship strands them in the frozen nothingness of Antarctica. Director and scriptwriter Charles Sturridge pays meticulous attention to history as he presents the tale, and Kenneth Branagh infuses gritty resolve into his role as daring explorer Ernest Henry Shackleton in his attempt to defeat nature and dissension after ice crushes his ship and maroons him and his crew. While the camera pans the terrifying beauty of vast Antarctica, mutinous grumblings reflect the slowly deteriorating morale of the men huddling in tents, dragging lifeboats across ice floes, eating their sled dogs, and rowing through pounding waves and frostbiting winds. It is a tribute to Sturridge's direction -- and to the diaries of Shackleton and his crew -- that the film holds the interest of the viewer despite the monotony of the landscape and the absence of civilization. One scene shows the ship's photographer groping through lethal water to retrieve lost film. Another graphic scene depicts the amputation of a gangrenous toe. From time to time, the camera returns to England to report on the diminishing hopes of Shackleton's supporters, including his wife and mistress. Overall, the acting is excellent, the cinematography is strong, and the portrayal of Shackleton as one of the 20th century's greatest adventurers is vivid and true to life.
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All but forgotten at the time of his death in 1922, controversial British explorer Ernest Shackleton would enjoy a rediscovery of sorts decades later, with dozens of books and filmed documentaries devoted to his "magnificent blunder" -- the failed Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914-1916. On the sheer weight of his dynamic personality, Shackleton was able to mount an exploratory journey to the Antarctic, accompanied by a crew of 27 men, among them celebrated Australian photographer Frank Day. Alas, Shackleton's ship was crushed by packing ice early in the expedition, forcing the crew to brave the merciless polar elements for a full ten months. Making matters worse, public concern over Shackleton's plight was shunted aside when Great Britain entered WWI. First telecast in England on January 2 and 3, 2002, the two-part TV biopic Shackleton stars Kenneth Branagh in the title role. The script does not shirk away from the subject's less savory character traits, including his disastrous financial dealings and his blatant unfaithfulness to wife Emily (Phoebe Nicholls). Nonetheless, one emerges from the film with a renewed respect and admiration for the visionary Shackleton and his bedraggled companions. Much of the imagery in Shackleton was based upon the still-surviving films made on the scene by Frank Day, adding extra authenticity to the drama even though the film was made in Greenland and Iceland rather than the Antarctic. The two-part film made its American TV debut courtesy of the A&E cable network on April 7 and 8, 2002; shortly afterward, Shackleton was released on DVD, with four additional hours of documentary footage.