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4.6 out of 5 stars
The Sinking of the Laconia [DVD] [2010]
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
I have now seen this film twice thanks to BBC's iPlayer facility. I enjoyed it very much the first time and enjoyed it even more the second time around. The first thing to state is that the subject matter is a story well worth telling. The Laconia incident is something that only those of us who are interested in the Battle of Atlantic are really likely to have had much of a handle on prior to this film being shown. I would just add that some of us of a certain age, who when children took Look and Learn comic, may recall an illustrated article in Look and Learn about this story. This would have been about 1970 -1972. I certainly knew about the story and recall the images of lifeboats towed by U156 in an edition of the comic from about that time. I think I even cut out the article and kept it in a scrap book. Some quick internet research has shown me that there are some eye witness records on BBC's History Website as well. More recently I read a short but fascinating book by one of the survivors ("One Common Enemy" by Jim McCloughlin).

If we consider the acting first then I would have thought that we can agree that it is excellent throughout. Ken Duken as U-boat commander Werner Hartenstein was excellent. He exuded all the quiet command, decency and intelligence one would expect of the highly intelligent and educated son of a North German mercantile family. The other German crew members were well played especially the Radio Operator, First Officer and Chief Engineer. I would add that Lindsay Duncan was superb as were Andrew Buchan, Brian Cox (limited role played spot on). I thought Jodie Balfour, Paul Hilton and Morven Christie were also excellent. I thought the actors, all of them, put over their characters as convincing personalities for 1942. Not really a weak link in the cast at all. I would reserve my particular appreciation for Ken Duken and Franka Potente (* I admit that I think she is one of the greatest actresses currently working - so I concede my bias) but others will have different views. Incidentally every woman I know said that they would be happy to be torpedoed by Ken Duken - or is that the kind of Graham Norton style nonsense we all rightly disapprove of?

Alan Bleasdale's screenplay has been criticised in the press and by some on line critics. I am not sure quite why. These critics seem to have expected a different sort of film. They seemed to think that a three hour television play should comply with the rather trite rules of a two hour fictional cinema film. They are of course making a simple if stupid category error. The screenplay (play being the operative word in this sentence) allowed the complex story to develop slowly and the audience were able to get a grasp of how and why a situation could exist whereby all these disparate people might be on a single commandeered cruise liner sailing alone and how a U-boat commander might rightly see it as a legitimate target for attack. From there the drama was able to develop. Those who criticise Mr Bleasdale are of the same mind as those who think that Beethoven was wrong to compose three movements before the last choral movement of the 9th Symphony. Great art, music or drama is not for those who are in a hurry.

The first episode of this excellent drama reached an initial climax with the sinking of the Laconia and then ended with a second greater climax with Kapitanleutnant Werner Hartenstein taking on the task of rescuing the survivors (British civilians and military personnel, the merchant navy crew of the Laconia and the Italian prisoners of war in transit) who had been on the ship he had torpedoed. The second episode shows how that rescue attempt partially unravelled due to no fault of him, his crew or the survivors of the Laconia.

Alan Bleasdale has of course put Hartenstein centre stage but the other main characters are vital to showing the extent and nature of the tragedy and the triumph of the rescue attempt. Many online reviewers have I think misunderstood the role of Hilda Smith (Hilde Schmidt???). She is there to depict how there was another way of acting for moral Germans - that of resistence and open opposition to Nazi rule. She and her murdered family members are representatives of the Munich anti Nazi movement - Der Weiss Rose (The White Rose). The date is approximately right. Their protests were in 1942. Of course getting her to Egypt and onto the Laconia was a very far fetched plot idea but it worked in terms of developing the drama. Hilda and Werner's discussions and inter-reaction are the moral heart of the piece. She, who knew and had suffered Nazi cruelty at first hand, could at the end come to respect and I suspect care for Hartenstein. If Hilda could come to respect Hartenstein the man of war but also the man of moral decency, then so could we.

One thing that surprises me is how well Admiral Doenitz comes out of this film. He was indeed the one who decided to send aid to Hartenstein (U 506, U 507 and the Italian Sub Capellini all helped in the rescue of a total of 1106 people). In this film drama-documentary he is shown as acting well in terms of supporting Hartenstein's rescue efforts despite his staff advising against it.

75% of all U boat crew men died (30,000 out of 40,000) in the Battle of the Atlantic. About the same number of Merchant Navy sailors died as well. There were other casualties as well such as the prisoners of war shown in the film and civilians and troops in transit. It was a terrible battle. That in the midst of a battle to the death such humanity could emerge from the fog of war makes this event worth commemorating on film and a damn good film it is too.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 9 March 2011
Whilst the film is very good Alan Bleasdale's script was butchered by 2 hours by the BBC. However the longer version will be screened in Germany in November 2011. I'm holding out for a release of the German version in 2012. Here's hoping it has suitable subtitling for English-only speakers.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 3 May 2011
A really excellent film enjoyed by all the adults in my family + friends, made especially enjoyable being based on a true story.
A war film although graphic, for once without all the blood and gore! A happy + sad ending - just perfect!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 13 December 2011
This has been very enjoyable viewing. I wonder if some people will not like the Germans being made to look human for a change but whats wrong with that? A great film with great actors. If you like this sort of film then this is for you.
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on 31 March 2013
I enjoyed this movie very much, but they could have cut it by an hour and still achieved the same impact. In fact -- improved on its impact. It was very realistic and believable. Characters were well cast and likeable. Good to see Thomas Kretschmann (Captain Hosefeld in The Pianist) make a reappearance. Helped along tremendously by the fact that it was a true story and the end was given double the punch by the short sentence epilogue. Will keep this one in my DVD library. Will watch again. Certainly very good watch, especially for WW11 buffs.
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on 2 April 2014
Quite a historical moment when German Sub Uboat launched torpedoes at the Larconia. The U-boat commander Werner Hartenstein then staged a dramatic effort to rescue the passengers and the crew of Laconia, which involved additional German U-boats and became known as the Laconia incident. My dads uncle was aboard this boat when it happened, So it was a must to purchase this adaptation of the sinking of the Laconia. Amazon Packaged & delivered quickly.
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on 30 December 2012
An excellent drama, drama is not exact history and this does not try to be a history , it tells a story does it very well . The plot entertains and it is well written , reading about the Laconia would be a natural follow on from the drama.
Werner H comes away well from this , as he should do.......the Allies less well ..........good to watch and no regrets in buying it, in fact it is easy to pop it in and enjoy it now and again.
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on 19 February 2014
So glad that I have found this film at last.
I first saw it on television a few years ago and was fascinated by the humanitarian aspect of the incident.
Having read eyewitness accounts I can safely say that the film's makers have done a first class job. True there were areas that could have been covered in differently, but the general storyline and details are well presented.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 20 January 2011
Excellent - best drama on the BBC since "Band of Brothers". Ken Duken is superb as Cpt Hartenstein. Couldn't recommend more.
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on 6 January 2013
This film is a most interesting story based on fact. It demonstrates the sheer stupidity of war and reminds us all that no side is all good or all bad. This therefore means that it could not have been made in Hollywood. Considering the glut of films about mindless violence, depravity and a total lack of ethics this one stands out as something much better.
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