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Sinking of the Laconia, The

Release Year:         2010
Studio:         Acorn Media
Format:         Colour; NTSC; Widescreen
Rated:         Not Rated; Some strong language, violence and nudity
# of Discs/Episodes:         2/2
Running Time:         171 minutes
DVD Release Date:         August 7, 2012
Screenwriters:         Alan Bleasdale
Directors:         Uwe Janson
Actors:         Andrew Buchan, Ken Duken, Franka Potente, Brian Cox, Thomas Kretschmann, Lindsay Duncan
DVD Features:         SDH subtitles; Documentary featurette: “The Sinking of the Laconia: Survivors’ Stories” (29 min)
E:Top Picks Rating:         7.5/10

Acorn Media Write-up: 
New, gripping WWII tale with an outstanding cast; Seen on Ovation’s “The Best You’ve Never Seen” Premieres.

A remarkable true story of heroism, heartbreak, and unexpected humanity during the midst of World War II, the thrilling and thought-provoking drama, THE SINKING OF THE LACONIA, debuts on DVD from Acorn Media. Broadcast on Ovation in April 2012, the miniseries features rising stars Ken Duken (“Inglourious Basterds”), Andrew Buchan (“Garrow’s Law”), and Franka Potente (“The Bourne Identity”), as well as Lindsay Duncan (“Rome”) and Brian Cox (“The Bourne Supremacy”). Adapted by award-winning screenwriter Alan Bleasdale (“G.B.H.”), the miniseries was nominated for a BAFTA Award for best drama serial in 2011. The DVD 2-disc set includes the complete miniseries plus the 29 minute documentary featurette, “The Sinking of the Laconia: Survivors’ Stories”.

In September 1942 at the height of the battle for the Atlantic, a German U-boat torpedoed the RMS Laconia, sinking the British ship without knowing that it carried more than 2000 passengers, many of them civilians. What followed is a tale of humanity and heroism unlike any other in the midst of one of the bloodiest conflicts in history.

Award-winning screenwriter Alan Bleasdale dramatizes the incident with deft characterizations, narrative subtlety, and moral complexity.

Jon Ted Wynne Review:    
Real-life stories set in times of crises, such as World War II — arguably the most significant event of the 20th Century — usually make for highly watchable dramas. The story of the sinking of The RMS Laconia, a British ship carrying civilians (including women and children), troops, Italian prisoners-of-war and Allied guards, is an interesting one. But right off the bat the producers made a big mistake. If it is called THE SINKING OF… then there is no opportunity for suspense, right? IF she is sunk becomes WHEN she is sunk. Granted this incident is based on an historical occurrence and is known to history, but most people will not have heard of the Laconia before, so stripping away this dramatic potential gets things off to a slow start.

Casting Andrew Buchan (“Garrow’s Law”) as the “good guy” is also a bit of a mis-step. Buchan appears to have one expression and it works very well in “Garrow’s Law”, but it is less than successful here. Still, he’s likeable for all his milquetoastiness and that, for a leading man, is compulsory.

More interesting are some of the supporting cast, particularly Brian Cox as the Laconia’s captain. Another performance that deserves to be mentioned is that of Franka Potente, who plays a British/German civilian caught in the middle of the conflict. Her part is under-written and a bit one-note, but given the limitations of what she has to work with, she is very good.

Without question though, the film’s most riveting performance comes from Ken Duken, who plays Korvettekapitan Werner Hartenstein, the commander of the German U-boat responsible for the sinking. Hartenstein’s acts of humanity after the sinking of the enemy ship reveal a powerful moral compass within. In a seemingly impossible scenario, the film’s most visible symbol of the Third Reich proves to be difficult to dislike. This is a feat not only of the script, but of the actor. If it sounds like an intolerable situation as a viewer – sympathizing with the Nazis – make no mistake, that is not what LACONIA is asking you to do. THE SINKING OF THE LACONIA successfully strips away the political side of war and holds each individual accountable. “Goodness” and “badness” both show unexpected faces in this film.

Historically, when Hartenstein realized that civilians had been on board the Laconia, he went to extremes to rescue as many people as possible after the sinking. This good deed put him in a highly compromised position, the effects of which form the basis of the drama. It’s a reminder that even within the inhuman realities of war, compassion can exist. It is the story of a beautiful heart, and it deserves to be told. Unfortunately, writer Alan Bleasdale artificially inserts multiple references to the “Christmas Truce” of 1914, when German and British soldiers temporarily ceased fighting to enjoy seasonal camaraderie and even some gift-giving and play, much to the dismay of their superior officers. The parallels between the events are slim at best, and the references distract from the real lesson to be learned. The benefit to Hartenstein and his crew was nil. It was a purely altruistic act on the part of a German officer, not a meeting of minds. Additionally, a scenario is inserted to make Andrew Buchan’s character look more the hero, just to ensure that some of the adulation splashes over onto the English. The waters are unnecessarily muddied, as though the usually brash Bleasdale is afraid of his own point.

Bleasdale’s script is full of unnecessary profanities as well (in English and in German), which, considering the valuable lesson that could otherwise be given to a younger audience, will limit the audience and potentially impact enjoyment of the film. Both these factors suggest a contemporary sensibility which waters down the period flavour (no pun intended).

In the film’s favour, there is a nice mixture of character studies that gives some variety to the proceedings. The US does not come across well, however, and it is a bit suspect to see all the Americans painted one colour when the script is trying so hard to be apolitical. Again, Bleasdale confuses his own plot.

This two-part drama is followed by a documentary featuring interviews with many of the real-life Laconia survivors. While overall it is interesting, it is a bit dry at times, if only because the people being interviewed are telling us about what we’ve just seen dramatically represented.

THE SINKING OF THE LACONIA is engaging. It just doesn’t grip the viewer as much as one might have hoped. Yet, for a telling of this alternately tragic and uplifting tale, it is more than adequate. Just don’t expect the high drama of “Titanic”.