Prior to viewing "The Sinking of the Laconia" I was not familiar at all with the Laconia incident that serves as the narrative structure for the obviously titled "The Sinking of the Laconia." While a summary of the incident doesn't fully convey the full significance of the events leading up to, occurring during, and the fallout thereafter, it does however, provide an encapsulation of how badly this, three-hour, 2011 German and British co-production misses the mark. The RMS Laconia was torpedoed on September 12, 1942 by a German U-Boat; while it may have carried a small number of British civilians, its value as a military target was obvious as the number of British and Polish soldiers far surpassed the civilian count, while the 1000-plus Italian POWs took up the bulk of the passenger space on the boat. What makes the Laconia incident so fascinating is the U-Boat captain's show of utter humanity in neither leaving the passengers for dead nor coldly finishing the job his boat started; instead, he and four other German submarines donned Red Cross emblems and sought to strike a temporary ceasefire in order to ensure the survivors safe passage to non-German territory. While the ultimate outcome of the Laconia incident is historical fact, I won't "spoil" it here, but needless to say, "The Sinking of the Laconia" manages to take the above series of events and reduce them to an utterly mind-numbing experience rife with clichés and sloppy writing.
It's not until the final third of the miniseries' first half that the actual attack on the Laconia takes place; following the classic, rote pattern of giving viewers key characters to attach themselves to in large scale dramas such as this, "The Sinking of the Laconia" jumps willy-nilly from characters on the RMS Laconia, to U-156 (the submarine responsible for the original attack), all the way to the German naval command. A few stock characters including Franka Potente as Hilda Smith, a semi-mysterious Laconia passenger, Brian Cox in a wasted role as the Laconia's captain, and Andrew Buchan as Thomas Mortimer, an officer on the ship who is dealt early on an emotional hand of tragedy. While Potente and Cox have proven themselves as fine actors in the past, both phone in their parts here, while Buchan neither distinguishes himself as being a competent nor incompetent actor. It's not until the U-156 takes a greater role in the story that we get the miniseries' sole character of note, Captain Werner Hartenstein, played by Ken Duken. While Duken's performance is nowhere near the gravitas of Jürgen Prochnow's in "Das Boot," there are very similar comparisons to be drawn in the character's humanity and complexity; simply put, "The Sinking of the Laconia" is yet another story that reminds viewers that not every member of the German military was a heartless Nazi.
While the acting in "The Sinking of the Laconia" borderlines at times on dreadful, the script does the players no favors. One would easily think that such a historical and gripping incident could easily fill three-hours, but neither Alan Beasdale's script nor Uwe Janson's direction can make up its mind whether it wants to be trite melodrama or a historical thriller. Even the most tense moments of the film, including the initial rescue and the ultimate conclusion never resonates on a primal level since the program, time after time, leaves viewers with a feeling of casual indifference. The only technical saving grace, is the program is pleasant to look at, albeit with the same sense generic approach to production design as its lead characters. That however, is not enough to make "The Sinking of the Laconia" worth a three-hour investment of time, which is a shame, because any piece of history deserves to be treated better than this.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer boasts strong color, that becomes crystal clear once the action moves to the exterior of the ships in broad daylight; there is minimal natural looking grain/noise with no irksome DNR, resulting in an image that sports above average detail, natural contrast and a touch of edge-enhancement.
The Dolby Digital English Stereo audio features surprisingly rich sound, although the overall tone of the track is a tad soft and the lack of surround really hurts the overall presentation of the program. English SDH subtitles are included.
The lone extra is in fact, more enlightening and valuable than the main program. Running approximately 30-minutes "The Sinking of the Laconia: Survivors' Stories" allows those who lived the incident to tell their stories.
"The Sinking of the Laconia" is a thoroughly mediocre piece of entertainment; it only distinguishes itself from your average, bloated TV-movie by injecting a bit of nudity and adult language. With a three-hour running time, it's not worth the time investment for so little emotional reward. Skip It.