“Admiral” is a sturdy, handsomely realized bio-pic about the greatest hero in Dutch naval history. A 17th century period piece, it’s a timely reminder that “liberty” and European democracy weren’t wholly incubated in England. The folks who love their tulips and gave shelter to The Pilgrims, were pretty progressive, even then.
Back in the mid-17th century, the small united states that we now call The Netherlands were divided into monarchists — the Orangists — and Republicans, those who fiercely defended the country’s status as “the only Republic in Europe.”
Two things united them. They loved their trade. And they hated the English, their biggest trade competitors.
“The English begrudge us our freedom!”
With England scheming with assorted allies to put the Dutch in their place, only their navy could save them. And when their great admiral and nobleman, Maarten Tromp, dies in combat, a sailor who has risen through the ranks, Michiel de Ruyter, was their last best hope.
“This is the 17th century! Anything is possible!”
Frank Lammers is the burly, bearded sailing savant de Ruyters, a veteran blue water sailor, whaler, pirate hunter and wily skipper. The bluff and burly Lammers looks like the son of a beer porter, de Ruyter’s heritage. He tries to dodge command when it is offered him by the Republican prime minister, Johan de Witt (Barry Atmsa). But de Witt convinces him that he is beloved, that he doesn’t need to be of noble birth to be a hero and save the country.
Over the course of a decade or so, de Ruyter does just that, fighting off the English and French and whoever else allies with them, carrying out a daring raid on the Royal Navy at anchor just outside of London.
The large scale balletic battles of the age of sail have never been more realistically rendered onscreen, as director Roel Reine’s team mixes replica ships and digital backgrounds to showcase the maneuvering, splintery explosions and brutally personal nature of combat among “fighting captains.”
The film skates past de Ruyter’s defeats and spends more time on political intrigues, the brutal uprising against Republicanism, the temptations laid before Prince William (Egbert Jan Weeber) by the conniving and lecherous Charles II of England, played with vulpine menace by the great Charles Dance.
“Admiral,” in Dutch with English subtitles, is peppered with delightful trash talk. The Admiral is told to quake at the sight of the “unsinkable” English flagship — “All ships are unsinkable. Just until they sink.”
The English are just as confident — “Unbelievable. Those cheeseheads crave a beating!”
It’s a rather perfunctory and perfectly conventional bio-pic, aside from the rituals of combat and the splendid nautical detail. The history isn’t quite the Gospel truth or any more accurate than my summary of it.
But most of the cast, especially Lammer, Hauer and Dance, render this story in big, broad and sometimes brilliant strokes, playing characters big enough to dominate the epic events surrounding them. They make “Admiral” a rousing good tale from an age when ships of wood were sailed by men of iron.
MPAA Rating: unrated, graphic violence, nudity
Running time: 2:08