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    Re: Longitude
    From: Frank Reed
    Date: 2012 Nov 3, 12:17 -0700

    Alex, you wrote:
    "Interestingly, the story of Harrison stops at a low point,
    after he made H2, and concluded that he failed (to provide a convenient mean for determining longitude, and to win the prize). This is where the movie ends."

    I think that this is where "Part I" ends! The program has a couple of "soft endings" where the credits roll and you feel like the drama has come to a conclusion because it was originally a four-part TV series shown on A&E in the US and Channel 4 in the UK. The complete film is over four hours long.

    My short review: "Longitude" is worth seeing, but its fictionalized account of the 18th century half of the drama is more broad and more misleading that Sobel's book on which it's based. In the book, Maskelyne is portrayed as a narrow-minded "villain" (labeled explicitly as such). In the movie, Maskelyne is shown as a near buffoon barely able to use his sextant and mocked by real men. There were a lot of scandalous rumors about Maskelyne's behavior, many nurtured by the Harrisons (father and especially son), but it would have been better to find a more balanced account of the people and their arguments. Similarly, right at the beginning, as Dava Sobel narrates, Admiral Cloudesley Shovell is portrayed as a tyrannical fool in the film while in the book he was portrayed as merely a pompous fool. In reality, as far as his spectacularly tragic navigational error is concerned, he was a product of his age more than anything else. I would say, he was a "tragic fool". The other half of the story, a portrait of the life of Rupert Gould as he worked to restore H1, is as interesting maybe because it's an almost unknown story. Here, the dramatic details are even more speculative since there are few original sources on Gould's life. The acting in the film is excellent. Michael Gambon is excellent as John Harrison, suggesting some of his paranoia (yet he's the hero, of course, so only hinting at this), and Jeremy Irons is a convincingly angst-ridden Rupert Gould, rebuilding his life by rebuilding H1. I do recommend it, but take it with a grain of salt. I own the DVD set (two DVDs) and you can buy it yourself for less than $10 here:

    For anyone reading NavList who is unfamiliar with the original book by Dava Sobel, you should get yourself a copy of "Longitude". It's a little paperback that was a huge hit back in 1997 that you can find in most any used bookstore (IF you can find a bookstore, that is!). George Huxtable once described this book as a "despicable little bookling" (he was fond of all or nothing reviews), and I personally recommend a later edition which was published as "The Illustrated Longitude". At first look, this appears to be a "coffee table" edition of the original, but it's much more since the photos have extensive captions, some of which qualify as informative articles rather than mere captions. You can also buy The Illustrated Longitude through amazon:


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