The Watchmaker’s Apprentice (12) | Home Ents Review



Dir. David Armstrong, UK, 2015, 67 mins

Cast: John Rhys-Davies, George Daniels, Roger W. Smith

There was a time, a long time ago, when one might be stopped by a stranger in the street with the question “Have you got the time?”. This was (in most cases) not a request for some nefarious liaison, but simply a request to know what time it was. The answer given, would, most likely, have been, “Nearly nine”, or “Just gone nine”, or “Almost twenty past nine”. Contrast this to the likely answers which might be given today (in the event that one is even asked), which might be “Eight fifty-nine”, “Nine O One”, or “Nine nineteen”. Of course, this change has come about because we have digital devices which can tell the time to millionths of a second using a bit of quartz and a battery. The old mechanical watch has become completely redundant and replaced by gadgets which show numbers which equate to time.

And yet…… , to quote from The Watchmaker’s Apprentice: “the position of the hands on the face is a far more instinctive statement of the time. They represent the cyclical nature of it all……”

The Watchmaker’s Apprentice is about the world of the clockwork watch – not microchips, nor bits of quartz, nor batteries. And neither is it about any old common-or- garden watch, even if it is clockwork, because this is about the perfectly crafted pocket-watch.

It seems that some philosophers have seen the clock, and thus, by implication, the watch, as the nearest we can come to a metaphor for perfect creation – absolute craft.

As the narrator, actor John Rhys-Davies (Lord of the Rings), tells the viewer in his sonorous voice, “The universe is a clock – wound since the beginning of time – of everything. Each spiral, each galaxy, each star or planet whirls and spins its eternal revolutions held in place by forces strange and in constant competition. Balanced, one against the other slowly … slowly… running down….”

Once upon a time, there was a man who held the universe in his top pocket. A universe encased in solid gold and crafted entirely by his own two hands. This film tells the story of this man, Dr. George Daniels, who was born in Sunderland and brought up in London. How he suffered an abusive childhood, and rose from poverty to become the finest watchmaker for two hundred and fifty years and certainly of the modern era. But what makes the story truly fascinating is how another man, Roger W. Smith, embarked on what can only be described as an obsessive quest to eventually become accepted as George Daniel’s one and only apprentice, and ultimately his equal. And this all began when dad suggested that young Roger went on a horological course in Manchester!

The film explores how the two men met – the world’s greatest living watchmakers (George Daniels died in October 2011 and this film contains the last interview that he gave); and looks at their extraordinary craft, their touching relationship of an old and a young man, and their unique personalities. Obsession, passion, personality and perseverance all play their part.

You may well feel that the microscopic detail of finely crafted gold pocket watches would not be of great interest to you, but this documentary will soon prove that belief wrong, and, like me, you too will be fascinated to learn how George Daniels invented the co-axial escapement – the “first new horological development in two hundred and fifty years and widely accepted as the most important of the twentieth century”.

George Daniels is supremely confident, even in old age – sheer egocentricity, and that is his own word to describe himself. It wasn’t just watches, as we learn in the film that he also threw his energy and enthusiasm into collecting and racing old Bentleys, of which he owned seventeen!

The film itself is about the passing of time – the beginning to the end, birth to death, including a reminder that we merely have a fleeting existence but one of which we should make the most.

Interesting extras are provided with the DVD. In “Workshop Tour” RWS is the guide to George Daniel’s iconic workshop on the Isle of Man. “Sold!” is the auction, at Sotheby’s, of George Daniel’s body of work which produced fabulous sums for each watch auctioned – the proceeds, over eight million pounds, going to the George Daniels Educational Trust. In “Rising Star” Daniel’s biographer, Michael Crerizo, speaks about Daniel’s faith in the potential of his only apprentice.

A very catchy little refrain runs through the film and you will find yourself humming it long after the film is over.

George Daniels’s watches are beautiful in their design, and, as such, are a joy to behold, and these comments apply to the film itself. A really well-crafted film which uses old interviews very well; even the stills are presented artistically rather than just slapping them up. I make no apology for over-using “inspirational”. The film should be an inspiration to young people living in our “want it now” generation, as it demonstrates that benefits can come to those with the patience, tenacity and endeavour to follow their plans forward.

All in all a lovely film – watch it (all sixty-seven minutes – I’m still obsessed by time!) and feel good.

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The Watchmaker’s Apprentice is out now on DVD.

Author: Eric Jukes

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