Adrift‘ is based on the true story of American Tami Ashcraft (her name is changed to Oldham in the film for some reason) and Brit Richard Sharp, who met in Tahiti in 1983 while travelling and became engaged. They then embarked on a voyage together, intending to sail a rich couple’s boat to San Diego. However, their plans are foiled by a hurricane which capsizes the boat and (in the film version) leaves Richard badly injured and the inexperienced Tami struggling to sail the boat using a sextant and the stars and surviving for 41 days on just a few canned provisions.

Director Baltasar Kormákur has experience of helming ‘disaster flicks’ based on true stories, with the recent ‘Everest’ probably being his most high-profile film. I really liked the narrative structure of this film and believe the story is skillfully told through its flashback device. The film begins moments after the boat is capsized, then flashes back to the couple first meeting. There are then two parallel narratives running; Tami (Shailene Woodley) coping with conditions on the storm-wrecked boat and the start of the love story on the island. The two narratives meet at the moment the boat capsizes. This means that there are moments of much-needed relief from the tension of the situation on the boat and this is one of the reasons this choice works so well.

The love-story part of the film succeeds because of the believable chemistry between Woodley and the slightly older Sam Claflin, playing Richard. She is a free spirit; fairly aimlessly travelling the world and taking odd jobs to pay her way after escaping a difficult home life. He has suffered from his mother’s death at a young age but has a love of working on boats, even building his own and has been searching the world for companionship. They fall in love in the stunning surroundings of Tahiti (I believe Fiji was the actual filming location) and it is hard not to fall in love with both of them at the same time. The film has not lent into a potential 1980s setting (a missed opportunity for fashion and music) and instead has updated the story. However, this has little impact on the technology available on the boat, which all stops working once the storm hits anyway.

It is once the crisis hits the boat that Woodley really comes into her own, joining the likes of ‘Life of Pi’s Suraj Sharma or ‘All is Lost’s Robert Redford in commanding an ocean survival story (almost) single-handedly. Many familiar tropes of the genre are here; such as using ingenuity to repair the boat and navigate, being driven mad with thirst and hunger, a second smaller storm coming along and the suffering from hallucinations. I didn’t love ‘Big Little Lies’ as much as most people, but Woodley really impressed me there and she does the same here. Woodley also produced ‘Adrift‘, perhaps inspired by working with Reese Witherspoon, who has been taking creative control of many of her projects.

I have written about Claflin recently in ‘Journey’s End‘, which was a revelation to me in terms of him as an actor. I am glad he hasn’t abandoned his romantic roles though, as he supports leading women well in such films as ‘Love, Rosie’ (a great rom-com) and ‘Me Before You’ (a terrible one). He is very good at convincing onscreen chemistry (with Gemma Arterton in ‘Their Finest’ too) and has an easy-going loveable charm (must resist mentioning how good his thighs look in this film).

The less you know about this film and the true story going in, the better (yes I know it’s ironic writing that in a review that I want people to read). Safe to say, I was pretty devastated and shedding tears by the end, but I can’t possibly tell you why. It is a remarkable true tale of survival against the odds and I’m a sucker for such things, add in romance and you’ve got me hook, line and sinker. I wish it had been raunchier if I’m honest, but hey at least the 12A/PG-13 rating meant that my showing was full of kids (eye-roll). Adrift is worth seeing on a big screen for the stunning tropical island scenery and the spectacle of the vertigo-inducing waves in the storm. I really enjoyed it and I’m sure you will too.

Directed by: Baltasar Kormákur
Starring: Shailene Woodley, Sam Claflin