Autumn 2009 Documentary series
Wednesday, October 7, 2009 at 7:00pm
Directed by John Walker
Screenplay by John Walker
Rated PG ·
It was news that shook the English-speaking world. Celebrated British explorer Sir John Franklin and his crew of 128 men had perished in the Arctic ice during an ill-fated attempt to discover the Northwest Passage. More shocking, they had descended into madness and cannibalism.
The report came in 1851, from John Rae, a Scottish doctor working for the Hudson’s Bay Company. Travelling thousands of miles on foot and in small craft, Rae had done what six years of searching by the British, Americans, French and Russians had failed to do — discover the fate of Franklin and unlock the final link in the Passage — a 300-year-old dream.
But Rae’s horrific news did not sit well with Sir John’s widow, Lady Franklin, nor with many others in British society, including Charles Dickens. They waged a bitter public campaign that would discredit Rae’s version of events, banish him to the margins of history and mark an entire nation of northern Inuit with the horrifying label of murderous cannibals.
With Passage, filmmaker John Walker employs an innovative approach to structuring the incredible multilayered story of John Rae and brings it to vibrant life. Using a unique blend of dramatic action, and behind-the-scenes documentary footage, Walker pulls back the curtain on his own research into Rae’s life and that of his actors, as they determine how to portray the characters and scenes in the film. The line between real and dramatic begins to blur as we move closer and closer to the film’s climax, a stunning face-to-face meeting between Charles Dickens’s great-great grandson and Tagak Curley, an honoured Inuit statesman who challenges the fraudulent history. In one moment, Walker vaults the story from the past into the present and we are witness to history in the making.
Set in the actual locations of Rae’s journey, from his boyhood home in the remote Orkney Islands off Scotland’s north coast to the epic landscape of his Arctic expeditions to the boardroom of the British Royal Navy — the centre of power of the British Empire, Passage is a story of incredible sacrifice, stunning distortion of the truth and single-minded obsession. It challenges the way we look at history.