H.M.S. Defiant

H.M.S. Defiant (released as Damn the Defiant! in the United States[1]) is a British naval war CinemaScope and Technicolor film from 1962 starring Alec Guinness and Dirk Bogarde. It tells the story of a mutiny aboard the fictitious ship of the title at around the time of the Spithead mutiny. It was directed by Lewis Gilbert, with a screenplay by Nigel Kneale from Frank Tilsley's novel Mutiny (1958).[2] The film had its world premiere at the Odeon Leicester Square in London's West End on 22 February 1962.[3]

H.M.S. Defiant
H.M.S. Defiant FilmPoster.jpeg
Original UK film poster
Directed byLewis Gilbert
Produced byJohn Brabourne
Screenplay byNigel Kneale
Edmund H. North
Based onMutiny
1958 novel
by Frank Tilsley
StarringAlec Guinness
Dirk Bogarde
Anthony Quayle
Maurice Denham
Nigel Stock
Music byClifton Parker
CinematographyChristopher Challis
Edited byPeter R. Hunt
G.W. Films Ltd
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • 22 February 1962 (1962-02-22) (London)
  • 15 April 1962 (1962-04-15) (UK)
  • 19 September 1962 (1962-09-19) (USA)
Running time
101 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom


In 1797, the humane Captain Crawford (Alec Guinness) is in command of the warship HMS Defiant during the French Revolutionary Wars. He soon finds himself in a battle of wills with his first officer, the sadistic and supercilious first lieutenant, Mr. Scott-Padget (Dirk Bogarde). The lieutenant believes that Crawford is too soft on his crew, and also disagrees with the captain's decision to follow his orders to sail to Corsica despite word that Napoleon's army has overrun much of Italy. Scott-Padget has powerful family connections, which he has used in the past to "beach" two previous commanding officers with whom he disagreed. Knowing that Crawford is helpless to intervene, Scott-Padget subjects the Captain's son, Midshipman Harvey Crawford (David Robinson), to excessive daily punishments so as to gain leverage over the captain.

Meanwhile, some of the crew, led by seaman Vizard (Anthony Quayle), are preparing to mutiny for better conditions, in conjunction with similar efforts throughout the British fleet. They eventually pledge virtually the entire crew.

In the Mediterranean, the Defiant encounters a French frigate escorting a merchant ship. After a sharp engagement, a boarding party from the Defiant captures the French frigate, and the merchantman surrenders. Crawford dispatches his son as part of the prize crew tasked to sail the captured merchantman to a British port, thereby placing him out of Scott-Padget's reach. Crawford tells Scott-Padget that bringing his son with him was a mistake, but now he's "put it right!" He further vows to take actions that will "astound" his second-in-command. Before long, Scott-Padget is confined to quarters as punishment for insubordination. His humiliation is compounded by the requirement that he appear on deck every two hours in full dress uniform, a punishment usually reserved for young midshipmen.

Soon, Defiant fights and captures a Venetian frigate, taking on many prisoners. Crawford is severely wounded in the action and eventually loses his arm. Discovered among the prisoners is a key aide to Napoleon, from whom the British learn important information about a planned invasion of Britain.

With Crawford incapacitated, Scott-Padget takes command, but his brutality goads the crew into a premature mutiny. Appealing to their patriotism, Crawford convinces Vizard and the other mutineers to sail for the main British fleet blockading Rochefort to warn them of the impending invasion. Crawford promises to intercede for the crew as best he can, on the condition that none of the officers are harmed.

As the Defiant reaches the fleet at Rochefort, they receive word that the main British fleet has already mutinied, with the Admiralty agreeing to most of the sailors' demands. The crew's jubilation at the news is cut short when a hot-headed seaman, Evans, murders Scott-Padget. Realising that they are now all doomed to punishment as mutineers, an enraged Vizard kills Evans. Their only course now is to try to escape with the ship.

Just then, the French fleet sallies out from port, and a French fireship is sighted heading straight for the British flagship. As the only ship under sail, the Defiant has the unique opportunity to save the flagship. Once again, Crawford appeals to the crew's patriotism, making no promises but convincing them to intercept the fireship. Vizard is killed in the ensuing action, living just long enough to hear a message from the British admiral thanking Defiant for their gallant actions. The mutiny is over.


Appearance in other mediaEdit

Johnny Burnette sang a tie in Damn the Defiant ballad.


'Films and Filming said it was the ninth most popular movie in Britain for the year ended 31 October 1962 after The Guns of Navarone, Dr No, The Young Ones, Only Two Can Play, The Road to Hong Kong, Spartacus, The Comancheros and Blue Hawaii, and in front of The Pirates of Blood River.[4]


  1. ^ IMDb: Release dates for H.M.S. Defiant Retrieved 16 April 2013
  2. ^ Tilsley, Frank (1958). Mutiny. Reynal.
  3. ^ The Times online archive 22/2/1962 page 2
  4. ^ British films are tops at box office Author: Douglas Marlborough Date: Monday, Dec. 10, 1962 Publication: Daily Mail p 3

External linksEdit