The Sinking of the Laconia (2010)


Reviewer: Charity Bishop


War dramas have become more popular over the years. This one is based on a little known historical incident that became both a source of inspiration in human kindness and a political embarrassment for everyone involved.


German Submarine commander Werner Hartenstein (Ken Duken) has a proven track record for exploding enemy vessels. One more, and he will have sunk the greatest amount of tonnage thus far in the war. Everyone on his U-boat is eager to take that honor. Little does he know, however, as he good-naturedly keeps an eye on his crew, breaks in the new recruit, and scours the Atlantic for enemy war ships, that he is about to make a terrible mistake.


The Laconia cruise liner sets sail from England full of interesting passengers... Italian prisoners of war who pride themselves on their boxing abilities... wealthy socialites struggling to maintain control over their ambitious daughters... a captain bitter about conflict and tired of the war... homesick family man and first officer Thomas Mortimer (Andrew Buchan)... and a mysterious woman who is not all that she pretends to be. From the first moment Hilda (Franka Potente) turns up with an infant in her arms and no idea where her passport is, Mortimer takes an interest in her. Perhaps she reminds him of his wife. Perhaps he is suspicious. Perhaps he is merely kind. But his gentle encouragement of her singing talent, his interest in talking to her, and his offer to babysit her child so she can dance endears him to her and they become friends. But late one night, a terrible telegram arrives for him from London with news that his entire family has died in an air raid. Devastated, Mortimer is even more upset to discover that Hilda is German. But before he can hear her side of the story, a torpedo rips into the boat, killing hundreds and sinking her rapidly, forcing everyone out into lifeboats.


Having mistaken the cruise liner for an enemy shipping vessel, Werner is faced with a sea of screaming women and children. He wires Germany for instructions and then takes them all aboard the submarine. In doing so, all of their lives change forever.


The strength of this story lies in its characterization. It paints each individual as fully human, with flaws and strengths in equal measure. No one is without a reason for their beliefs or an explanation for their behavior. It avoids favoritism as much as it can, although unfortunately it is hard not to think badly of the only Americans who were involved, and who caused a greater loss of life through reckless foolishness. It moves particularly slow in the first half but then picks up as the lives entwine and stories start to unfold. It's hard not to like these people, from the German "newbie" on the submarine to the heartsick older woman fearing the loss of her daughter. Everyone loses something, be it the life of someone they love or their preconceptions about their enemies. Everyone comes out better for it, in letting go of their prejudices and agreeing that war is never favorable. It is a temporary peace, but an interesting one.


Beautiful acting and authentic German dialogue help this production along, and for the most part, it is historically authentic to the incident itself, but it also contains some salty language and a lack of follow-up on informing us what happened to most of the passengers. I'm left wondering if most of them were invented for dramatic effect, which is not bad because it means reading up on them.

Sexual Content:
Implied trysts between unmarried people (a couple kisses in a closet, a woman invites a man to undress and climb into bed with her).
20 uses of the f-word, several of Jesus' name, coarse stuff like pr*ck, and general profanities.
The boat is hit by a torpedo and people are killed; we see bodies floating in the ocean, some of them bloody. A bomb explodes at least one lifeboat. People are left with injuries.