Thursday, November 11, 2010

Review: Desperate Crossing: The Untold Story of the Mayflower

Recently we watched Desperate Crossing: The Untold Story of the Mayflower, as part of our history studies.  A History channel production featuring actors from the Royal Shakespeare Company and filmed on location at Plimoth Plantation, England, Belgium, Maryland, and Virginia, this excellent film (two hours and 23 minutes in length) does a remarkable job of bringing to life the story of the Pilgrims, from their beginnings in Scrooby to their new home in an inhospitable and foreign land.

As I watched the program in three segments with my children, I experienced a growing sense of amazement in two general areas: 1.) How little I actually knew about the Pilgrims and their story; and 2.) How almost shocking it was to me that they actually made it to America and founded a successful colony, given the number and gravity of the hardships and hurdles they faced.  At one point, one of the men says to William Bradford (and this is my 21st-century paraphrase), "If any of us even survive, much less do what we set out to do, it will be only by the grace of God."

And yet they did.

This is not the smiley-faced story I learned in school, wherein a group of like-minded folks hopped aboard a pleasure ship for a quick trip across the Atlantic and immediately made friends with the natives.  Now that I'm an adult, I suppose that somewhere in my mind I reckoned it wouldn't have been quite that easy, if I thought about it much at all.  Our recent studies, however, pricked my conscience about my ignorance; and this film fully opened my eyes to what was a harsh and difficult reality.

The Pilgrims did not leave England simply because their noses were out of joint about religion.  Their separatist position and the fact that they worshiped outside the Church of England rendered their worship illegal.  And their petitions to King James fell on deaf ears.  Frankly, the fact that the king declared he would "harry" Puritans out of England, but then made it extremely difficult for them to leave the country legally-- witness the Scrooby group's first disastrous attempt to sneak away to Holland -- does not show him in the most flattering, or even reasonable, light.  Moreover, his firm belief in the Divine Right of Kings gave him no reason to condescend to compromise with his subjects.  Nonconformists such as the Separatists -- those who wanted to separate from the Church of England -- held that the Scriptures were the final authority, not the monarch.  James and the English Separatists were in essence polar opposites with no hope of concession on either side.

This is but one example of the complex situations this group of Separatists, the Pilgrims, faced.  Desperate Crossing does a wonderful job of detailing the Pilgrims' hardships and setbacks, gathering all the threads of the "untold story" and weaving them into a compelling tapestry.  I was left in a sense of awe at their courage, tenacity, and faith in God.

There was, of course, a hiccup or two in our viewing experience.  Tiny Girl did not enjoy the talking heads who pop up occasionally to give their explanatory comments. They "interrupt the movie," says she.  And I have to admit that some commentators are better than others.  That's to be expected.  But on the whole, we enjoyed it tremendously, with myself being the most affected.  Highly recommended.

Addendum: It has come to my attention (after more research) that this DVD has been called "revisionist history" by a few people.  However, providing another group's perspective on events is most decidedly not revisionist.  The Pilgrims' long and powerful journey to America's shores is part of the Mayflower legacy.  But other people already lived here, and this is their story, too.


  1. Thanks for recommending, your review is passionate and we love this part of history. I now have a good movie to watch with my husband who loves history.

  2. I've been looking for this, wanting to watch it as part of our early American history studies. Thanks for the review!


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