High Wind in Jamaica, A (1965)

A High Wind in Jamaica (1965), directed by Alexander Mackendrick.

"Piracy and High Adventure on the High Seas!"

That's a bit misleading, making it sound like a light-hearted Disney project. There is nothing here children can't see, but it is nonetheless darker and more unsettling than one might suspect.

Two families of children, headed back to England for schooling, encounter pirates, still scraping by in the 19th century. In the confusion they transfer to the pirate ship and sail around with them for a while. For the most part they have a good time without always understanding what is going on. ("Pirates? I'm sure he said pilots"). Anthony Quinn is the captain and James Coburn his first mate.

Dark deeds: the oldest boy dies in an accident. The oldest girl, a young woman, is initially afraid of the men, but then starts consorting with them. The children grow wild and strange, spooking the superstitious crew. The captain has confused feelings for the younger girl Emily, finally settling on a fatherly affection. In the end he glady sacrifices himself for her.

I won't give away the twist ending, other then to say it is a bleak "oh, wow" moment. You can read the summary in the wikipedia.

Deborah Baxter, age 11, only made a half dozen films but she shines as Emily. Hayley Mills was supposed to do this a few years earlier and you can imagine her in the role. One of the boys is Martin Amis, later the novelist.

The book shows up on a lot of favorites lists: dark happenings narrated in an off-hand manner.