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The Finest Hours: A Review and Some Thoughts on Family History in Movies

I took my dad to a screening of The Finest Hours, the new moving Disney is releasing in a couple of days (January 29th). I knew that it was a historical drama about a Coast Guard rescue off the east coast in the 1950s, so I was glad dad was able to come along because his father was stationed in the same general area at the same general time. I also get a lot of my history geek genes from dad so anything that is even slightly accurate is usually a movie we’d both enjoy.

I have to admit, I was a little unsure about this one because I don’t think of the Coast Guard as being particularly exciting. It’s terrible, since my grandfather was in the Coast Guard for more than twenty years, but I don’t hear about big things the Coast Guard is doing so they mostly go unnoticed. (I’m sure it doesn’t help that I haven’t lived by a coast of any kind since I was six years old. Not a lot of Coast Guard action here in Salt Lake City.)

The good news is that the movie was good – definitely better than I had expected – and all of the actors did a great job. Ben Foster in particular stood out as someone who really sank into the role and even though Chris Pine will always be a bit of a pretty boy for me (and maybe a little too pretty to play the bashful main character), he made it work for this one. Fair warning: we saw it in 3D but it’s definitely quite the ocean-y action movie so if you aren’t keen on feeling like you’re actually getting tossed around by giant waves I would go for the 2D showing.

The Finest Hours

I’m actually much more interested in my grandfather’s Coast Guard career now that I’ve seen this movie. The good thing about this one for me is that it was probably spot-on as far as giving me an idea of what being stationed in that area was like since he was in nearly the same place within two years of the date of this movie.

Grandpa in the Coast Guard

Obviously, his service days probably weren’t quite as exciting as Chris Pine and Ben Foster’s were, but I still got an idea of what kinds of things they were sent out to do, how the chain of command worked, what the different jobs were among the men, etc. I also got a good sense of how it was to live near the people who had lived on the coast all their lives (fishermen, etc.) and what it was like to be the Coast Guard wives waiting for the men to come back home after the rescue boats went out.

Grandma and Grandpa

Plus, since my father was born in Massachusetts in November while grandpa was stationed out there, I got a fun look at what the weather would have been like around that time. According to letters I have, grandpa couldn’t be there for dad’s birth, so my grandma would have been doing the single mom thing with her two daughters somewhere near the base in the middle of what looks like an incredibly unpleasant winter. Seriously, how do people live out there with freezing ocean spray and scary ocean blizzards? No bueno.

Scan 28A

I have a bunch of documents from my grandfather’s service, but I haven’t been motivated to piece them together to map out exactly where he was and what he was doing. Having seen this movie, though, I’m going to sit down this weekend and do just that.

Scan 59

Honestly, if you’ve gotten a little bored in your genealogy and you’ve hit a bit of a rut, I would look for a historical film based in the same area/time as your ancestors. Granted, the movies won’t always be a perfect fit for your family’s story, but any historical movie worth its salt will have had researchers working to get all the details right…which means they’ve saved you a lot of work when it comes to recreating a narrative of what daily life looked like!

Also, you should go see that movie. I think it’s one of those that will be better in the theater when you’re seeing it for the first time. Biiiig scary ocean waves and all.

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1 Comment

  • Reply Heatherlynn

    It’s breath-taking to see old photos. I have a thing for history and personal lives. It amazes me what footprints our ancestors have left for us. I’m from a small island, and photography back in the day didn’t exist or was very limited in my island. I would love anything in the world to see photos of my great-grandparents and how they looked. All I hear are stories of them.

    April 8, 2016 at 2:53 pm
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