The Sinking of the Laconia

THE SINKING OF THE LACONIA Parts 1 & 2 – The two-part movie focused on the events that led up to and succeeded the sinking of the Laconia, a repurposed cruise ship carrying Italian POWs, their Polish guards, British soldiers and some civilians, and the subsequent rescue by their attackers, the crew of German U-boat, U-156.

Of course, a lot of the two-parter is probably heavily fictionalized for storytelling purposes, but the main body of the story – attack, rescue, and attack again by US airstrike – seems to be intact. And what a story it is. The Sinking of the Laconia isn’t so much a fully formed tale with a set beginning and end – as its 180 minute total running time may suggest – but more a snapshot of a certain time in the lives of the characters. The two-parter opens with a handful of questions and ends with even more.

The production values are high and the direction is minimal, no fancy stuff here that would show the limits of making such a big story for television – and it is a big story. There’s a U-boat, a cruise ship, the actual sinking scenes, hundreds of extras, and a bit of top notch movie talent mixed into the blend. This is not a B-movie in any way. It’s all so beautifully done that I found my mind wondering, once or twice, to consider why this was on television and not in the cinemas.

The acting talent is the best part of The Sinking of the Laconia. It features a great mix of actors of different nationalities that run the gamut from major stars (Brian Cox, Franka Potente), to movie up-and-comers (Ken Duken), to actors who are better known in their native country. The British and German actors in particular were incredible, but it was the portrayal of the Americans that left me baffled.

This two-parter, while dealing with serious subject matter, isn’t completely devoid of humor. There are quite a few chuckles spread throughout, but then the Americans turn up and everything gets surreal. The scenes with the rescued and the German U-boat crew, and those with the German officials, feel like a completely different movie to the scenes featuring the US pilots. Their look, manner and accents are like caricatures from some comedy sketch show, and instead of seeming unprepared (as I assume they were supposed to be), they just looked downright stupid. It was horrible to watch, jarring, and a flaw in an otherwise brilliant series.

Being an Anglo-German production, we were treated to seeing all sides (except the Americans) equally and fairly. We got to see the more human side of WW2-era German officers, and I’ll admit I teared up at the end after reading about the death of the crew of U-156.

If you can leave politics, and your feelings on the war, at the door, The Sinking of the Laconia is a movie not to be missed.

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