For all the exotic locales he wrote about, it was always the open sea that loomed largest over Joseph Conrad – that longing for an abandoned nautical past creeping into his literary output. An adaptation of one of his short stories, Secret Sharer wastes very few minutes on dry land, heading almost immediately out into the China Sea for an engaging romantic thriller that just about stays on course after veering close to the coastline of Sunday night television drama.
Only loosely based on Conrad’s story, Peter Fudakowski’s directorial debut finds other ways to pay homage. The least subtle is Jack Laskey’s Captain who’s not only Polish but also called Konrad. Joining an old rust bucket for his first command on the proviso that he scuttles the ship for an insurance scam, he finds himself up against a hostile crew that suspect his motives from the start. Everything goes even further awry when a beautiful and very naked fugitive Li (Zhu Zhu) climbs aboard seeking shelter from her pursuers.
Fudakowski’s film is certainly a handsome ship to sail on. Crisp whites and shimmering daytime blues merge into silky stretches of black expanse at night. The scenes on board the decrepit old cargo vessel ring true with an authentic intimacy, while the ocean cinematography, complete with sweeping zooms and flybys, conveys an imperial grandeur.
The plot works best when focused on its protagonist’s efforts to win over the crew and complete his mission. There are genuinely gripping peaks – an on-board fight and a perilous attempt to navigate past hidden rocks – set against melodramatically entertaining bonding as they sing Polish songs, share a love of Chinese food and engage in a renovation montage to break down mutual distrust.
Much less successful is the burgeoning romance between Konrad and Li, cooped up together in his cabin. Laskey and Zhu make for an attractive couple, but stiff acting and hammy dialogue combine with pot-boiling moments of luridly lit eroticism to lower the tone. There’s even a puerile conversation about getting laid that’s enough to make the strongest of constitutions shudder. An overly neat ending and weak attempts to dabble in cross-cultural experimentation (Laskey is an Englishman playing a Pole who loves Cuban music and falls for a Chinese woman) further reduce the cinematic feel. Secret Sharer is more reduced price page-turner than literary classic, but that doesn’t prevent an entertaining voyage.
Secret Sharer is released nationwide on 27th June 2014.
Watch the trailer for Secret Sharer here: