The Yangtse Incident

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Part 1 of the Mondo Esoterica Forgotten Wars selection.

The Yangtse Incident (1957) tells the true story of the British ship HMS Amethyst. In 1949, at the height of the Chinese Civil War that saw Communist rule come to China, the British ship was travelling, with full permission of the existing Chinese Government, to the city of Nanking, conveying essential supplies to the British and embassy aiming to relieve the existing British warship there that was standing by to evacuate British personnel from the city. Travelling up river the ship came under heavy fire from Chinese People’s Liberation Army gunners on the shore and was badly damaged, forcing it to ground. Another British ship attempted to provide aid but was beaten back by heavy fire. A cease-fire was arranged with the People’s Forces who offered to let the ship go, provided that the British admit that they were at fault. After the wounded were evacuated over land, a British naval attaché was brought to the ship and arranged to escape under cover of darkness…

Made less than a decade after the incident, The Yangtse Incident is very historically accurate, although as is mentioned in a note at the start of the film, time constraints have limited how much detail could be shown. However this does not excuse the rather piecemeal information that we, as the viewers, do get. We never find out how the men who evacuate the ship get to safety, or how two of the wounded become separated. Similarly, those without a detailed knowledge of the Chinese river network might well find the long list of place names and locations to be rather confusing in establishing what is going on. Fortunately the film holds its own on the storyline front and the good characterisation and strong pacing build up to a genuinely gripping climax as the ship makes a bid for freedom.

Director Michael Anderson had previously helmed iconic British war film The Dam Busters (1955) and brings a similar ‘documentary’ style approach to the production which gives a good sense of realism to the whole proceedings. The ship itself was used extensively during filming, although there are a couple of model shots later on.

Richard Todd takes the top credit here in another British military man role, as usual he suits the role very well. There are a good number of familiar faces in the rest of the cast including future Doctor Who William Hartnell and an uncredited debut role for a young Bernard Cribbins.

Refreshingly free of the unsubtle “anti-war” messages and political correctness that would doubtless plague any modern adaptation, The Yangtse Incident is a solid two hours of stiff upper lips and British pride and comes recommended to all 1950s war movie fans.

Sadly there is no DVD in any region at present although some VHS copies do circulate. A solid looking print on Film 4 in the UK was the source of this review.

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