I ended up being pretty impressed by this TV dramatisation of a really quite astonishing World War II naval encounter. The Laconia was a ship carrying troops, civilians and prisoners of war from North Africa which had the bad fortune to be spotted by a German U-Boat in the Atlantic, and the title of the piece makes obvious its fate. What’s less predictable is what happened next: the captain of the U-Boat took pity on the survivors, and allowed them to come on board his vessel. He then put out a message to Allied forces that any ship in the area that came to the rescue of the stranded civilians would not be attacked. The eventual response by the British and Americans to this message becomes the denouement of this drama.
I only watched this because of Alan Bleasdale’s writer credit. He wrote Boys From The Black Stuff and later GBH, which may be the best thing I’ve ever seen on television, and this is the first TV project of his to come to fruition since Oliver Twist, ten years or so ago. So I was initially a bit disappointed here as the dialogue and characterisation seemed slightly pedestrian, although the production undoubtedly looks great, with all the necessary period flourishes. It got better though (or maybe it was me re-adjusting my expectations), and by the second half this was properly gripping, with no cartoon heroes or villains and plenty of interesting responses by the characters to an extreme situation. Visually it comes over as a straight mash-up of Das Boot and Titanic, and I swear a lot of the facial hair of the U-Boat crew has been lifted directly from the former.
So, a second great piece of historical drama to start the year, but more pertinently a great piece of TV drama, which you can’t imagine being made for the big screen without a lot of the most interesting nuances being ironed out.