Review: The Six

Written and directed by Arthur Jones, the last great mystery of Titanic is unravelled, as an international team searches for the ship’s lost Chinese passengers, uncovering an extraordinary tale of survival and dignity in the face of racism and anti-immigrant policy. Starring: Matthew Baren, James Cameron, Grant Din, Tom Fong, Cynthia Lee, David Lee, Dan Schmalz, Steven Schwankert, Paul Wade, Emily Yang, Clotilde Yap, Judy Yung and Grace Zhang.

The story of the RMS Titanic almost certainly wouldn’t be spoken about as much today were it not for James Cameron’s romantic epic on the disaster. However, while it gave a hugely entertaining exploration of how the sinking came to happen, there were plenty of other details it didn’t have the time to delve into. In particular the story of the six Chinese passengers who were rescued only to arrive in America to an entirely unwelcome reception. Therein lies what’s so fascinating about The Six, it’s not about the crash, the sinking or the rescue but it is about survival. It follows the life these six men had after they were immediately turned away and forced to keep going after such a traumatic experience.

Arthur Jones’ style with The Six is quite simple, with the exception of a few uses of animation here and there, it’s a scaled back aesthetic. Choosing that simplicity means that the focus can remain on the subjects and the team’s investigation. One of the things you can learn very quickly is that digging up information of immigrants in the early 1900’s, is no easy task. They’re given slivers of breadcrumbs to follow which half the time they can’t even be sure if they can trust. That struggle to discover the truth is one of the elements which adds a great suspense. This is not a documentary with a waterfall of information, it’s gathering bits and pieces together to get an idea of what their lives were like.

It holds an interesting balance of discussing their lives and the racism and prejudice that pushed them in a lot of the directions that they followed. It acknowledges those restrictions and the horrendous laws put in place to try and stop immigration but they never take the limelight, it remains on the men. There’s undoubtedly a larger conversation to be had, particularly regarding the British history with immigration. However, it was the right decision to not let that focus slip away, letting the film hold a bigger tone of respect and admiration for the plight of these six men and others like them.

Although there is the occasional weakness, a few tangents which don’t feel entirely necessary and do slip back into recreating their experience on the ship. Understandably they are in service of seeing things from their perspective and researching whether the other accounts of the time are correct. It also maybe could have used a separate narrator, a stronger, bolder voice to lead you through this story. That’s not to say it isn’t entertaining to hear it from the team themselves, it’s just missing that something to push it a little bit further.

The Six opens your eyes to a whole new side of the story of the Titanic and makes you question about what else we don’t know. It pays homage to these men, not only in how they survived but how they built lives for themselves afterwards. It has a great investigative basis which holds a nice amount of suspense to keep you glued in but there’s also a wholesome feel to it. The tone it establishes of telling the story in the honour of these men makes for a lighter and extremely accessible feel.

Verdict: ✯✯✯✯ | 8/10

Screening at The Prince Charles Cinema on 1 March as part of Odyssey: a Chinese cinema season 2023’s ‘Pre-Festival Programme’

Odyssey is an annual film festival presented by UK-China Film Collab, with a theme focusing on ‘Global Sustainability’ this year – Coming Soon

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