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Scott of the Antarctic (1948)


Warning: screenonline full synopses contain 'spoilers' which give away key plot points. Don't read on if you don't want to know the ending!

1904: Captain Robert Falcon Scott leaves the Antarctic, and records his frustration at having to abandon the last truly unknown continent. He returns to the Navy, but plans for a second expedition are at the forefront of his mind.

1908: Scott starts planning the expedition in earnest, launching a public fundraising appeal with the help of his wife Kathleen. He hears that explorer Ernest Shackleton has managed to get within 90 miles of the South Pole before turning back. He discusses this with his friend, the zoologist Dr Bill Wilson, and asks him to join what Scott intends to be a primarily scientific voyage - though he is clearly also after the Pole.

Money trickles in from various sources (including a school fundraising effort), and Scott's lecture tour is met with scepticism. But he gets plenty of volunteers, including Captain Oates. In Norway, he tests the motor sledges that he plans to use as transport, but the explorer Fritjof Nansen is dubious about their worth: he prefers dogs. When interviewing Lieutenant Bowers for a position, Scott hears that he has raised enough money, albeit forcing some cuts to his original plans.

1910: Crowds gather to see the expedition's ship, the Terra Nova, set sail. Scott receives a telegram from Nansen's protégé Roald Amundsen, to say that he's also attempting the South Pole. Scott stresses to his men that the expedition is primarily a scientific one, and that he is not racing the Norwegians.

After ploughing through sheets of ice, the Terra Nova lands at a spot christened Cape Evans. Base camp is established, and the ship departs, leaving Scott's men to prepare for winter, where there will be no sun for six months. Scott plans his 900-mile route across the Great Ice Barrier, the Beardmore Glacier and a 9,000-foot plateau. Food and fuel are crucial to their survival, and a series of depots are planned along the route. He hears that Amundsen is stationed 400 miles along the coast - with vast numbers of dogs.

On June 22 1911, the men celebrate midwinter by performing Cossack dances, reading poems and setting up a ceremonial tree made from feathers. Oates worries about the ponies' state of health.

The sun returns, and the expedition commences. After just four days, one of the motor sledges irretrievably breaks down, quickly followed by the second. When they reach the Beardmore Glacier, the ponies are shot for food, and the dogs are taken back to base camp. Twelve men are left to tackle the steep glacier. Chief Stoker Lashly falls into a crevasse, but is rescued.

At the end of the glacier, four more men return to base, leaving eight to pull two sledges against the wind. Finally, Scott has to decide who to take to the Pole - intending it to be four, he ends up picking five: himself, Wilson, Oates, Bowers and Petty Officer 'Taff' Evans.

The last leg of the journey to the Pole is exceptionally difficult, though passing the point that Shackleton reached only increases their determination. Finally, they reach the Pole - only to find a Norwegian flag already flying there. Bitterly disappointed, the men take a commemorative photograph.

On the way back, they find that the wind is not behaving as planned, and Evans develops severe frostbite in his hands. A depot is less well-stocked than expected, lowering morale. Despite frequent protestations that he's fine, Evans collapses and dies.

The remaining four cross the Beardmore Glacier, getting within 400 miles of base camp. Scott is concerned at their slow speed of just five miles a day. Lack of fuel forces them to switch to cold rations, and Oates becomes badly frostbitten. At the next depot, there is less fuel than they'd anticipated. One night, at the end of his tether, Oates walks out into the icy winds.

The three survivors get within eleven miles of One Ton Camp, the best-stocked depot along the route. But the weather worsens, and the men are trapped in their tent. They reminisce about their wives, the English countryside, walking along sandy beaches. Scott writes his final diary entry.

Weeks later, Scott's men find his tent under several feet of snow. A memorial is placed at the site.