Roel Reiné’s new historical epic Admiral was originally titled Michiel de Ruyter upon its original release in its native country of the Netherlands. One can’t help but feel that the title was changed for two reasons. First, big American releases seem squeamish around historical biopics which don’t feature solid, one word titles: Lincoln (2012); Jobs (2013); Trumbo (2015); Snowden (2016). And since neither “Michiel” or “Ruyter” have the thudding consonants needed for a catchy, emphatic title, they had to go with an approximation of the man’s military rank: “Admiral.”
The second and more plausible reason is that the average American would look at the name “Michiel de Ruyter” and ask: “Who in the hell is that?”
As a product of the American school system—which teaches little European history pre-World War One and almost none pre-American Revolution—I didn’t know who he was, either. But having seen the movie and researched him briefly I can appreciate his importance in the development of Dutch history: a military genius who helped maintain the Netherlands’ sovereignty through repeated miraculous victories against far superior navies.
So for this patriotic biopic of one of the Netherlands’ greatest heroes, Reiné pulled out all the stops to make the film big, bold, and Hollywood—if you get my drift. The soundtrack aches with melancholy choirs and martial themes; bold speeches about the value of Republicanism and freedom echo through the halls of parliamentary buildings; debris flies and men die in interminable slow-motion during bombastic naval battles. It all reminded me a great deal of American historical films from around the time of World War Two when Hollywood partnered with the US government to produce films that would help inspire and mobilize the American public.
Frank Lammers gives a surprisingly understated performance as Michiel de Ruyter. Though he has his moments of fury and agony, his usual countenance is one of weariness and concealment. He provides the film with a calm center as the militaristic and political machinations of the various Anglo-Dutch Wars swirl around him. Make no mistake: this film is just as much about the struggle between the Republicans and the House of Orange seeking to transform the Netherlands into a monarchy as it is about de Ruyter. At times its focus becomes muddled as de Ruyter disappears for large gaps of the runtime as people scheme and plot in the palaces of England and Dutch countryside manors.
A quick word about the streaming screener I was given for reviewing this film: because of the online frame rate and size, I couldn’t tell if the massive naval battle scenes used practical effects or slipshod CGI for creating the fleets of ships. Despite suspecting the latter, I’ll err on the side of mercy and give the film the benefit of the doubt.