“It should have been a warning to us”
Krakatoa: The Last Days is a rather po-faced 2006 docu-drama about the cataclysmic eruption of Krakatoa in 1883, based on eyewitness accounts. Its strenuous attempts at historical gravitas make it extremely worthy, trying wisely to keep away from the disaster-porn ethos that would make it a schlock-fest, but it straddles the line between docu and drama quite uncertainly and rarely becomes a compelling watch.
The narrative is split mainly between the account of a Dutch geologist Rogier Verbeek (Kevin McMonagle) who became the father of modern vulcanology with his study of the events which were the first ever scientific accounts of the full cycle of a volcanic eruption, and the trials of the family Beijerinck, the colonial masters of a small village that lay right in the path of the first shockwaves to emanate from Krakatoa.
The scientific side is more interesting, the evolution of a brand new field of study is fascinating stuff and it feels that a greater focus on Verbeek might have been more effective. As though Rupert Penry-Jones and Olivia Williams do a perfectly decent job as the Beijerincks, Williams particularly moving as she seeks to protect her three children, the fact that is her largely eye-witness account we are hearing means that there is hardly any focus on the native population and how they were decimated by the eruption and its devastating after-effects.
A sub-plot on a passenger ship just feels like a distraction as so little time is devoted to it – a wild-eyed Darrell D’Silva is the captain who saved over 100 lives – and the whole programme suffers from never really establishing what it wants to do. It’s not informative enough to be an effective documentary or is it moving enough to be an affecting drama. Frustrating.