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Series / The Sinking of the Laconia

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Two-part 2011 miniseries which originally aired on the Beeb depicting the Real Life events surrounding the sinking of HMS Laconia by a U-boat in September 1942, and the subsequent rescue of the survivors by the crew of the submarine. A British-German co-production of the BBC and ARD, it was directed by German Uwe Jansen and written by British Alan Bleasdale.

During its dangerous voyage from Egypt to Britain, the eponymous ship, carrying mainly Italian POWs and a large number of British civilians, is attacked and sunk by U-156, under the command of Kapitän Werner Hartenstein, setting off a chaotic, desperate struggle to escape the wreck onto the few lifeboats. The German mariners surface to search for potential captives, but are shocked to find not only soldiers, but huddled groups of civilians, including women and children, among the survivors. And so, Hartenstein orders the rescue of as many drifters as possible, until British sailors and civilians, as well as several Italians, fill up the U-boat and makeshift convoy of lifeboats tied alongside.

Then things get complicated.

While Hartenstein is determined to deliver his unlikely guests, he finds it increasingly difficult to balance the safety of his own men against that of a group of enemy civilians.

This work contains examples of:

  • All Germans Are Nazis: Averted, much to the surprise of the British. The mariners could more correctly be cited as examples of My Country, Right or Wrong, and are uniformly decent to their "guests". Plus, it is eventually revealed that the purpose of German Hilda Smith's journey was to escape retribution for the anti-fascist activity of her family.
    Billy Hardacre: I can't believe it either. No swastikas, no "Heil Hitler!"s, no torture, no propaganda.
  • Bilingual Dialogue: Between Chief Engineer Rostau and seven-year-old Anthony.
  • Burial at Sea: Several, with varying degrees of dignity.
  • The Captain: Werner Hartenstein.
  • Chivalrous Pervert: Rostau is constantly bragging about his former flames, and is certainly fond of the ladies in France, but he's a decent guy, and when he offers to keep little Anthony entertained, he brings up his experience with old girlfriends' children. Also, though it may be accidental, when he speaks to his French girlfriend, he addresses her formally.
  • Dirty Coward: Henry Bates is a pretty nasty example - he abandons his own wife and children to save himself from the sinking ship.
  • Eagleland: Type 2, once the American characters appear.
  • Face Death with Dignity
  • Fauxreigner: A dramatic example is found in Hilda Smith, a German national who passes herself off as English during her time on the Laconia.
  • Friendly Enemy
  • Going Down with the Ship: Captain Sharp of the Laconia.
  • It Has Been an Honor
  • Ludicrous Precision: Captain Hartenstein, after briefly protesting that it doesn't seem right to keep score on how many ships he's sunk, tells his colleague Harro Schecht that his personal tally for the previous month is 7,248 tonnes. Approximately.
  • Mini Series: Originally broadcast as two 90-minute episodes.
  • Moral Guardians: The character of Hilda Smith was added after the German producers requested changes to Alan Bleasdale's original script, as they felt that it was necessary to emphasise the evil of the Nazi regime, even while telling a story of magnanimity on the part of some of its soldiers.
  • Motor Mouth: Captain Benjamin Coutts, who constantly interrupts others with a stream of good-natured blather. He claims it's how his nose was injured.
  • Mrs. Robinson: "Lady" Elisabeth Fullwood. Though she's not averse to courting within her own age group, either.
  • My Country, Right or Wrong: Captain Hartenstein's attitude to the war, though hearing Hilda Smith's story of Nazi persecution shakes him.
  • Na´ve Newcomer: Fiedler, the 18-year-old new recruit on his first tour in the Atlantic.
  • Officer and a Gentleman: Werner Hartenstein is of merchant class, and is soft-spoken and abstemious in contrast to most of the other sailors, who are a little more rough around the edges.
  • One Last Smoke
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: In-universe example. One of the passengers, Hilda Smith, is a German woman who is attempting to pass herself off as English, and whose accent occasionally falters.
  • Real Men Wear Pink: Two of the crewmen offer Lady Fullwood some of their moisturising cream, without having to be asked.
    Lady Fullwood: Good Lord. I've never met a man yet who takes care of his skin.
  • Sink The Life Boats: Averted by the crew of the U-boat. Played Straight, ironically, by the American pilots who happen upon the vessel near the end of the film.
  • Would Not Shoot a Civilian: The crew of U-156. Their jubilation at the successful sinking of an enemy ship is completely dissipated when they discover it was carrying a large number of civilians. The trope is explicitly invoked by Chief Engineer Rostau.
  • You Better Sit Down: Captain Sharp says this to Officer Thomas Mortimer before informing him that his home and entire family were wiped out in an air raid.