Animal Planet’s “The Whale” explores real-life event that inspired “Moby-Dick”

“From the network that brought you Mermaids,” read the title card ahead of the trailer for Animal Planet’s self-described “scripted event” The Whale: Revenge From the Deep. That may be enough to either intrigue or dissuade any number of people who either liked or disliked Animal Planet’s previous forays into scripted fare like Mermaids, but the trailer does look promising. Add to that the fact that Martin Sheen headlines the film based on a gripping true-life tale, and that’s enough to get us to dive in.


The two-hour production is a retelling of the sinking of the Nantucket whaling ship Essex in 1820 after being struck by a sperm whale. The crew was left to spend months adrift in the South Pacific, with eight survivors eventually being rescued. The Animal Planet film is based on the accounts of the ordeal written by first mate Owen Chase and the captain, George Pollard Jr.

The sinking of the Essex by a great whale was said to be an inspiration for Herman Melville’s classic novel Moby-Dick. Like that book, the real story is itself a tale of man versus nature (including, of course, a whale, but also brutal storms, scorching sun and crippling waves as surviving members of the ship’s crew fight to stay alive after their vessel goes down), as well as man against man (the adrift crew faces a grueling hunger that foreshadows cannibalism).

Sheen plays Old Thomas Nickerson, a man who, years later, recounts his experiences as a cabin boy aboard the doomed ship (in real life Nickerson also wrote an account of the harrowing ordeal). His narration looks back on the incident, and, flashing back to the events, we see Charles Furness as young Nickerson, along with Jonas Armstrong as Chase and Adam Rayner as Capt. Pollard.

With its cast, its shooting locations (England and Malta), and the fact that it also comes from the BBC, The Whale looks to be worth a look, whether you are put off by that Mermaids disclaimer or not.

The Whale: Revenge From the Deep premieres Nov. 26 at 9pm ET/PT on Animal Planet.


Animal Planet/BBC/Zena Holloway

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