Screengrab: Working with sub-titles

Richard Lutz dives deep to find the movie of the week in the TV listings.


Screen GrabNow stay with me for a minute as I head NNW into the teeth of a storm force 10 gale with mainsail reefed, my jib set at a close haul and all gear safely stowed.

Yes, that’s correct, we’re hitting the oceans, or rather venturing under the waves, this week. But the stars aren’t Burt or Brad or Bruce or Benedict. They are Jurgen, Klaus and Bernd.

And in the great German film Das Boot (Thurs, 23.05, Film4), they are a Second World War submarine crew crammed into a tin can of a U-boat as they prowl the war-tossed North Atlantic.

It’s a grippingly claustrophobic movie and one in which, with all our Allied hearts pounding against the steel wall of fascism, we still come to like the Nazi submariners despite the regime they enlisted for.

The 1981 film follows their underwater exploits as they slowly have to deal with improved Allied destroyers, some equipped with early forms of radar.

Inevitably, the crew realise they will lose the war.

But in their U-boat, battling with fear, boredom, filth and suffocating claustrophobia, they dutifully follow naval orders under war-weary Capt-Lt Henrich Lehmann-Willenbrock. This role is handled masterfully by actor Jurgen Prochnow. He plays it as a sort of Uber Clint, fair but firm, eye on the prize, wily, hardened, boiling with seething hatred of his bosses. The men love him as he battles with the sea, crazy orders from High Command and the skill of  allied defensives on convoys.

Director Wolfgang Petersen (his cv includes Troy, The Perfect Storm, In the Line of Fire), creates the hell that was underwater warfare. I still remember when the crew of U-96 had to dive deep, so deep that the rivets popped and zinged round the sub like bullets.

Or a beautiful scene where the sub surfaces in a roiling sea at dawn to greet a fellow U-boat, exchange news and then dive again to a predicted death.

It’s a long film with different versions (TV, film, DVD) so some are with English subtitles or with Anglo translations…both are of a high standard, by the way.

Das Boot (The Boat) went on to grab a host of awards for cinematography, script and direction. All are deserved.

So deserved, so well done as a human story too that it made you forget good guys (us) and bad guys (them) and seduced you into seeing the German mariners as brave, cowardly, calm, panicky sailors, out to do their duty to comrades and country and, somehow, hoping to survive war at sea.