Previously: Master & Commander, Part 1.
The characters in Master & Commander have a lot to say about the division between Navy and non-Navy sailors, whether it's out loud in dialogue or implicitly through their costuming. The final battle of the movie hinges upon the HMS Surprise being mistaken for a whaling ship, a ruse which is helped along by the recent addition of some former whalers to the crew. The idea of a Navy ship being neat and organised is so ingrained that their "disguise" is merely to seem messier and less competent than usual, and for the officers to wear brown oilcoats over their uniforms. For the everyday crewmembers, the task of upholding the image of the British Empire is to keep the ship running as cleanly and smoothly as possible; for the officers, it's to maintain an appearance of upstanding British aristocracy even in the middle of a storm.
While the crew of the Surprise are somewhat ragtag and the officers are governed by the twin masters of 19th century fashion and the Naval uniform code, Paul Bettany's Dr Maturin is very obviously a civilian -- and very obviously unconcerned with Naval ideals of masculinity and Britishness. I'm not overly familiar with the original Aubrey/Maturin novels, but I do know that Maturin is the character who changed most between the books and the film. Although in M&C he's still an Irishman, his history as a spy and a laudanum addict is erased, as are his extreme levels of scruffiiness when compared to the other Gentlemen onboard the Surprise. Instead his lack of seamanship is emphasised, both in terms of his total lack of interest in sailing and in his many philosophical differences with dyed-in-the-wool Navy men like Aubrey.
The relationship between Aubrey and Maturin is the focal point of the film, with the unusually forward-thinking Maturin providing the audience with an outsider's view of Navy life. As a scientist and a rationalist, Maturin is a kind of Spock figure to Aubrey's Captain Kirk, since much of Aubrey's skill as a captain comes down to instinct and experience. Because he's the ship's doctor and the captain's closest friend, Maturin gets a lot of leeway when it comes to eccentricity, but he still wouldn't get away with the way he acts unless he also had the respect of the crew. The main reason he's allowed to dress and behave the way he does is because he's the only real civilian onboard, and therefore doesn't have to fit in with the crew or with the strict upper-class guidelines of the officers.
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