Sinking of the Laconia DVD

Monday, 14 March 2011 10:06

With more production partners than racketeers in the carbon trading business, “The Sinking of the Laconia” was broadcast by the BBC with little fanfare for what was a very slick production set-piece. It marked the return to television of writer Alan Beasdale. He had upset purists back in 1999 with his adaption of “Oliver Twist” for ITV – adding two hours of back story to the plot at the beginning of proceedings, and then changing crucial parts of the original plot.

Bleasdale has been working on “Laconia” since 2004, and this is only his 12th drama production since his debut in 1980 with “The Black Stuff”. The author, who also brought us the likes of “GBH”, “Jake's Progress” and “The Monocled Mutineer”, first mentioned “Laconia” in an interview in ‘The Independent’ in 2006, amongst a plethora of other projects that even now have not seen the light of day. And you could have had the opportunity to win one of three copies of the “Laconia” DVD set we had available in our prize competition.

Bleasdale's Sinking of the Laconia comes to DVDDirected by Uwe Janson (“Vulkan”) and based upon real events that took place during World War II, “The Sinking Of The Laconia” features an incredible cast of actors that includes Brian Cox (“The Day Of The Triffids”), Lindsay Duncan (“Alice In Wonderland”), Ken Duken (“Inglourious Basterds”), Andrew Buchan (Cranford), Franka Potente (“The Bourne Identity”), Matthias Koeberlin (“Vulkan”), Frederick Lau (“The Countess”), Thomas Kretschmann (“Valkyrie”), Jodi Balfour (Supernatural) and Morven Christie (Lost In Austen).

Be warned, however, that if you don’t like subtitles this production is not for you – the Germans actually do speak German!

Brian Cox is Captain Sharp, the wise old cynical bird of the RMS Laconia, a luxury cruise ship turned troop carrier which finds itself transporting civilians, children, wounded soldiers and Italian prisoners of war. On 12th September 1942, it was attacked by a German U-boat, hit by two torpedoes whilst sailing 130 miles off Ascension Island in the South Atlantic Ocean.

As the ship sank, leading to almost certain death for the passengers, the commander of the U-156, Werner Hartenstein (Duken), contradicted the orders of Nazi High Command and ordered his crew to save the survivors. During the days that followed, the U-156 crew saved around 400 people, with 200 standing on the deck of the surfaced submarine, and another 200 in lifeboats that were towed behind it.

Hartenstein sent messages to German U-boat Command, and the Allies, to plead for a rescue, but in a twist of cruel fate, an America B-24 bomber was ordered to move in to attack, despite the boat displaying a Red Cross; Gawd bless our Yankie chums!

Presented in two 85-minute parts, this was one of the tales of war that demonstrates the nobility of some human spirits, and at the same time the complete futility of conflict. The ramifications of Hartenstein’s actions were seismic. Admiral Dönitz (Thomas Kretschmann), as a direct consequence of what happened, ordered all U-Boats to cease ever helping any survivors, and especially by not providing food, water and directions to the nearest shore, let alone rescuing them.

As you would expect from a writer of Bleasdale’s background, the story focuses on the personal stories and relationships aboard the two ships, and then between the crew and passengers of both as they join ranks.

Drama is all about conflict, and making tough decisions. This is what you get in spades aboard the vessels involved, and special mention should go to Lindsay Duncan, taking great pleasure in once again being able to bring life to a Bleasdale character, as the merry widow who cares not what the age of her potential suitors might be! It's also something of a full circle for Bleasdale - his first TV production went out on BBC2, and here "Laconia" did the same - although why it wasn't put out on primetime BBC1 Saturday or Sunday night is anyone's guess!

Nit-pickers have noted a couple of things about the drama to redress. Firstly, British soldiers and officers would never salute under any circumstances without head-dress. This does take place a number of times throughout the production. Secondly, a lady refers to herself as a ‘British Citizen’. This is inaccurate for the time, as the concept did not exist until years later. She would have been, along with everyone else in this period a ‘British Subject’. To be honest, these are the only downsides in the whole near-three hours of the story, which shows how perfect it is!

The main feature takes up the whole of one of the DVDs in this set, with the second devoted to the Special Features. These include the 30-minute documentary “The Sinking of The Laconia: Survivors’ Tales” which gives you more of the real-life background of this incredible wartime story.

“The Sinking of The Laconia” has a running time of 171 minutes approx, a ‘15’ certificate, and is out now on DVD from FremantleMedia Enterprises. The RRP is £15.99, or get it for less at

Thanks to Cineology and FremantleMedia Enterprises, you could have had the opportunity to put one of three copies available to win on to your mantelpiece, in our prize competition. All you had to do was tell us the answer to the following question: What is the name of the actor who played Captain Sharp of the RMS Laconia?

The answer was Brian Cox, and the three lucky winners were Joy Whitelock of Bridgewater, Glyn Wigley of Barnsley, and Heather Shaw of Milton - well done all, and thanks to everyone who took part.


Last modified on Thursday, 10 May 2012 16:37

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