Ridiculous fake mustaches and sappy music cues abound in the made for television epic Mayflower: The Pilgrims’ Adventure (1979). Historical accuracy is of little concern for this CBS holiday special that focuses exclusively on the voyage from Britain to Cape Cod rather than the first Thanksgiving. Mayflower: The Pilgrims’ Adventure is full of shallow sentiments executed with campy enthusiasm better suited to a sitcom than a historical adventure film.
The main focus of Mayflower: The Pilgrims’ Adventure is the relationship between William Brewster (Richard Crenna), the leader of the Brownists, and Captain Christopher Jones (Anthony Hopkins). At the start of the voyage the two men find themselves at odds on moral matters only to completely reverse themselves by the end of the picture as they form a kind of begrudging bond. These characters are never really developed so their heartfelt farewell at the “new world” falls flat as a climax that’s been ninety minutes coming. Nevertheless, Crenna and Hopkins give their best to these roles with Hopkins going on to work with the director of Mayflower: The Pilgrims’ Adventure , George Schaefer, again on the television film The Bunker (1981) for which Hopkins won an Emmy.
Mayflower: The Pilgrims’ Adventure sports a pretty saucy sub-plot that takes care of the human interest angle. This secondary narrative concerns John Alden’s (Michael Beck) infatuation with Priscilla Mullins (Jenny Agutter), the nurse to Myles Standish’s (David Dukes) wife Rose (Trish Van Devere). Alden sees in Myles Standish a romantic competitor for Priscilla’s affections, leading to some pretty heated passive aggressive exchanges. But by film’s end Alden comes to realize that Myles isn’t seriously interested in anyone but his wife and that he (Alden) is just an emotionally high strung and possessive person. Fortunately for Alden, Priscilla doesn’t seem to mind that he’s volatile and immature.
The failings of both these narrative threads rest in the fact that they never threaten the outcome of the characters’ journey. These plots function more as entertaining diversions in a film committed to showing a ship cross the sea. That is to say that Mayflower: The Pilgrims’ Adventure is as boring as it is unfaithful to the historical record. It’s merits are of a purely nostalgic variety; appealing to those with a soft spot for pre-cable television films. Mayflower: The Pilgrims’ Adventure is exactly the kind of film they’d show at school before Thanksgiving break when I was a kid so it had a little bit of charm for me.