Is The North Water based on a true story? Perilous Artic expedition explained

The North Water: Colin Farrell and Jack O'Connell star in trailer

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The North Water explores how the crew of The Volunteer made an expedition to the Arctic in 1859 and is based on the novel by Ian McGuire. The whaling vessel was the centre of betrayal, a murderous plot and the journey of discovery as it made its voyage to icy waters. The success of the book spawned an adaptation by the BBC but many viewers will be wondering if the drama has been curated around real-life events.

Is The North Water based on a true story?

The main story of The North Water is not based on a true story and has rather been pieced together by novelist McGuire.

However, the author carried out extensive research of what life was like of a whaling vessel to bring the plot to life.

He analysed real-life, 19th-century expeditions to the Arctic to ensure the content was historically correct.

As the story is not real, the characters are not based on individuals from the past and they have, too, been created from the mind of McGuire.

Though the actors who are starring in the drama have still had to carry out their own research to make their alter-egos believable of the time and they had to learn the Hull accent as this is where the drama is set.

What is the story of The North Water?

The North Water follows protagonist Patrick Sumner (played by Jack O’Connell) as he boards the Volunteer as a new crew member.

Having served in the British army as a surgeon, he gets a similar role on the vessel but he soon attracts interest from whale killer, Henry Drax (Colin Farrell).

However, the voyage isn’t just an expedition to the Arctic as Captain Brownlee (Stephen Graham) has another motive for taking the Volunteer into icy waters.

With whales becoming extinct because of how many have been slaughtered, the Captain worries he won’t be able to maintain his lucrative life.

Knew it was going to be dangerous

Jack O’Connell

Therefore, he strikes up a plan with the owner of the vessel, Baxter (Tom Courtenay), who also only cares about himself and money.

He comes up with a dangerous scheme which will not only line his pockets but puts the lives of the crew members in danger.

What he wasn’t expecting was for doctor Patrick to walk abroad the Volunteer and catch on to what he was planning with Captain Brownlee.

As events on the icy water of the Arctic spiral out of control, lives are put in peril and questions of loyalty arise.

By the end of the five-part drama, viewers will discover if the expedition led to horrendous deaths or if a criminal scheme was foiled in time.

Was The North Water filmed in the Arctic?

Although the plot might not be based on a true story, the location of the Arctic is real and the cast travelled to the icy waters to film the scenes.

The actor who plays Patrick and Skins star Jack has spoken about the once in a lifetime venture in his career.

“We knew that it was going to be dangerous. There’s no way of completely eradicating danger,” the actor told the BBC.

“We had no signal, no internet. Everyone subscribed to it because of the personal challenges. We took an old-school sailing ship which had an engine.”

“But could also double as our mid-19th century whaling vessel, so we were very lucky to be able to do that because we were pretty exposed to all the elements of that environment,” Jack continued.

“When we got onboard our set, which was this old-school ship, the Activ, which we called the Volunteer, that was great, just to get on it and get an idea of what it was like to live on there.

“Colin sailed on her overnight, so we were all picking his brains to figure that out. We were all up for it, but I think the captain just wanted to be friends with Colin over all of us.

“That’s fair enough, isn’t it? He’s a cool guy! So yes, we were all picking his brains and trying to imagine being on there for over a year.”

The North Water begins on Friday September 10, 2021, at 9pm on BBC Two.

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