Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

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This article is about the 2003 movie. For the novel around which much of the film's plot was based, see The Far Side of the World.

Master and Commander:The Far Side of the World was the first, and to date only filmed version of any of the Aubrey-Maturin series. It was released in 2003 and produced a world-wide box office return of $210,477,920. The film also won several awards including Oscars for Best Sound Editing and Best Cinematography in 2004.

Though it takes its name and basic plot from The Far Side of the World, the film includes references, snippets of dialogue and certain plot threads from numerous books in the Canon. It is frequently referred to as "The fillum" in certain quarters.



This is a listing of major characters from the film; there were a total of twenty-five principal roles cast.

Actor Character
Russell Crowe Captain Jack Aubrey
Paul BettanyDr. Stephen Maturin
James D'ArcyLt. Thomas Pullings
Edward WoodallLt. William Mowett
Max Pirkis]Midshipman Blakeney
Billy BoydBarret Bonden, Coxswain
David ThrelfallPreserved Killick, Captain's steward
Lee InglebyMidshipman Hollom

Casting decisions

While many people were pleased with the choice of cast members for most of the roles, two in particular did cause comment. Paul Bettany does not physically resemble Patrick O'Brian's description of Stephen Maturin. Bettany is tall and not dark haired, however, he is considered to have portrayed Maturin quite well within the limitations of the script. Billy Boyd was also considered to be physically the antithesis of O'Brian's Bonden who is described as a tall man with a powerful physique.


Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World takes lines and incidents from a number of Patrick O'Brian's books though the main plot line and strategies come from The Far Side of the World (the tenth book in the series). The film is set during the Napoleonic Wars, and much of the film's action takes place at sea.

SPOILER WARNING:  Plot or ending details for "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World"  follow.

We first see HMS Surprise off the Brazilian coast in search of a French privateer, Acheron. Captain Aubrey and his crew have been sent after Acheron to stop her from carrying the war into the Pacific Ocean by preying on the British whaling fleet, even though Acheron is described as being a "faster, heavier ship."

After a near-disastrous first encounter, Surprise follows Acheron around Cape Horn and into the Pacific where Dr. Stephen Maturin is first denied, and later given a chance, to explore part of the Galapagos Islands and in the words of Jack, "Be the first naturalist to set foot on the Islands, I'll wager." While exploring the Galapagos, Stephen finds the elusive Acheron hiding in a cove.

Taking a page from the natural world and phasmids, Jack disguises Surprise as a British whaler Syren to lure the French ship close enough to board and take her.


  • Certain scenes are filmed on the Galapagos Islands; this was the first commercial film production allowed to film on the islands.
  • Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany learned to play the violin and cello respectively for the film.
  • The Acheron is based on USN Constitution and echoes her rated gun-capacity (44) and her exceptionally strong build, although the model of Acheron's hull presented to Jack by the seamen Nagel and Warley does not follow the flush-decked layout of Constitution.
  • Significant scenes have been taken from other novels aside from those mentioned in the title.
  • The date of the movie is 1805, however the novel is set in 1813.
  • Jack's rank in the film contradicts the title; only a post-captain could command a frigate, and in fact Jack's uniform, with its two epaulettes, indicates that he not only holds the higher rank but has done so for at least three years.
  • During the chase of the Acheron, Mr. Allen, the sailing master, remarks to Lt. Pullings, "Over a hundred sea miles and he brings us up on his tail; that's seamanship Mr. Pullings, that's seamanship." This line appears to have been borrowed from the 1951 film "Captain Horatio Hornblower" starring Gregory Peck, which contains an almost identical line. The remark does not appear in any of the O'Brian works.

From Canon to film

Nagel's Impudence to Hollum

In the film, Nagel bumps into Hollum and fails to "give his obedience" and Aubrey cries out, "You there!", not knowing the man's name. In the book, "They were abreast of one another; and Nagel walked straight on without the slightest acknowledgement other than a look of elaborate unconcern", prompting Aubrey to cry, "Master-at-arms. Take that man Nagel below."[1] Later, in the book, it is noted that, while Aubrey does not know the names of his Marines, with the sailors it "was quite a different ceremony. Here he knew every man, many of them -- indeed most of them -- intimately well, knew their virtues, vices, particular skills, particular failings."[2]

It may be that Jack's failure to identify Nagel at the moment of the offence is merely the result of his seeing the man only from behind. Later, discussing the matter with Stephen, he leaves little doubt that he does know the man; he comments that he and Nagel had worked side by side to cut away the fallen mast during the storm scene.

A subtle point is that in the film Nagel is given only twelve lashes rather than the twenty-four in the book. This may reflect the fact that the cinematic Nagel is a good and willing seaman apart from his tendency to drink on duty, whereas O'Brian's Nagel is a notorious bad character, one of a near-mutinous body transferred from the ill-run HMS Defender.

From Coxswain to Quartermaster

In the film, Barret Bonden is often depicted at the wheel steering the ship. A coxswain may steer a racing rowing boat but in the Navy the petty officer in charge of the steering was the quartermaster.

Other Reading

  • The Making of Master and Commander:The Far Side of the World ISBN 0-393-32553-9 by Tom McGregor


  1. O'Brian, Patrick. The Far Side of the World. (c)1984 by William Collins Sons & Co., Ltd. Published as a Norton Paperback 1992: pp. 123-4
  2. Ibid., p. 333
  • IMdb Retrieved March 2005
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