A fascinating historical drama, but in typical Hollywood fashion, incorporating a frustrating(for the historical purist) blend of meticulous historical fact and pure fabrication. Actually, Hollywood was not primarily responsible for the plot fabrications,as the film was based upon the then recent novel of the same title by Ernest Gebler. In contradiction to some reviewers, I consider this Spencer Tracy's greatest characterization, albeit a superficially negative one. All the major characters were well cast, even if Gene Tierney made an unlikely beautiful Dorothy Bradford, whom Tracy, as Captain Christopher Jones, lusted after. Some object that Dorothy could not have found Jones romantically attractive, being old, very grumpy, and contemptuous of the colonists. I sensed that it was more a case of pity on her part, and may have included some dissatisfaction with her husband and hope that she could charm Jones into not leaving for England until spring. Without the ship as a sanctuary until the colonists built adequate housing, they surely would all perish from exposure and starvation. Dorothy presumably felt that this divided loyalty between two men was an unforgivable sin or an unsolvable problem, necessitating her death. Would Jones have stayed with the colonists overwinter, had she not presumably killed herself? I doubt it. It was her sacrificial death that shortly preceded his changed attitude toward the colonists.
John Aldren's flirtation with the comely teen Dawn Addams has possible historical accuracy, as they would eventually marry....Lloyd Bridges is great as Jone's piratical-looking swarthy first mate and enforcer, ready to lead a mutiny when Jones inexplicably decided to stay the winter with the colonists.
The long episode of the severe storm is quite riveting. The bit about a large passenger screw being used to help support a cracked beam is historically true....Actually, it was another passenger, not William Brewster, who was washed overboard during a storm. Making it Brewster added to the drama with Jones over Dorothy.
The screen writer presumably followed Gebler in exploiting several common myths to add important fictional plot components. Thus, the implication that the initial landing near Cape Cod instead of the targeted Chesapeake region was a planned conspiracy by financial backers, with the cooperation of Jones, is an unnecessary clear fabrication, if adding to the frictional drama between the colonists and Jones. In contrast to common myth, the agreed upon target was the present NYC area, which was included in the Virginia Charter of the times, not the present state of Virginia! Most of the Separatist colonists had recently been living in Holland, and had heard good reports of this area from the Dutch. After making landfall in the Cape Cod area due to repeated storms, the Mayflower made an attempt to sail south to this area, but weather and current difficulties, along with the storm-battered condition of the Mayflower, caused them to return to their original landing area. Of course, the Dutch would soon begin settlements in the NYC-Hudson area.
The central love/hate triangle between Jones, William and Dorothy Bradford has no historical support, if much adding to the drama. Dorothy did die of drowning after disappearing from the Mayflower soon after it docked along Cape Cod. However, there is no clear reason to believe it was a suicide rather than accidental.This accusation originates from a mid-19th century fictional magazine story, presumably repeated in Gebler's novel(which I haven't read).
The characterization of Captain Jones as a disagreeable extreme world-weary cynic has no historical support. There are, however, several historical facts or misconceptions that might lend some credence to this characterization. He had fathered 10 children, most of whom had died as infants or small children. Secondly, during the 19th century, it was thought that the captain was one Thomas Jones: a sometimes pirate and slave trader, thus presumably a rather rough cynical character. This might also lend credence to the rather piratical charisma of the first mate, Mr.Coppin, a genuine historical name. Thirdly, there was a seaman who repeatedly belittled the colonists as having no chance of surviving this voyage or their desired destination. Interestingly, this seaman was one of only two to die during the voyage! Surprisingly, this seaman is not included in the film story, hence probably was incorporated into the Captain's character.
Some reviewers think Tracy was too old for the part of Captain Jones. Well, the real Jones was only 2 years younger and died only a year after returning to England..Incidentally, his return trip took only 1 month compared to the more than 2 months getting to Cape Cod. This shows the influence of favorable winds, the Gulf Stream, and generally fewer storms in spring.