Dive into Das Boot, the sublime subtitled submarine drama
This 2018 series, now on Showmax, is not to be confused with Wolfgang Petersen’s brilliant 1981 movie of the same name. It’s not a remake, and it’s not really a reboot, although it has been referred to as a “sequel” as the action takes place some months after the original setting. The similarities lie quite simply with the boat of the title, a World War II submarine, with very necessary enhancements.
The strength of any submarine film (or series) lies in the tense interior scenes, filmed in extremely close quarters. Even so, if you’ve not been in a submarine yourself (a decommissioned one used to be available for tours in Simon’s Town harbour), you still have no real idea of exactly how cramped it is.
Think of it this way: there are sleeping quarters for only half the crew; the other half is on duty. Whatever your idea of small is, cut it in half. Then ponder how smelly it is. And consider being several metres below the surface – and fresh air – with nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.
Taking this concept and extending it from a couple of cinematic hours to an eight-part series means there has to be more than those familiar red-lit scenes with the ping of the radar, brows beaded with sweat, torpedoes being fired or depth charges being dropped from battleships, and the frantic order to “Dive! Dive! Dive!”.
Fans of quintessential submarine imagery will not be disappointed: “The opening scene is breathtaking, awful and a claustrophobe’s worst nightmare, all panic, yelling and flashing red lights. A U-boat finds itself under attack, under water, and the crew’s terrified realisation that the game is up dissolves into near-unbearable tension,” says The Guardian.
And that’s just the beginning. But, of course, this cannot be sustained for an entire series, and so half of the action of Das Boot takes place above ground, with a parallel storyline set in La Rochelle, France.
Das Boot, with its duality on land and under the sea, will require your full concentration, and it will not fail you for a moment.
“Fans of the emblematic submarine adventure Das Boot, an international hit in 1981 and a favorite of those who like their war movies claustrophobic and single-minded, may be alarmed by descriptions of the new Das Boot television series,” says New York Times.
“This German-British production… is a surf and turf proposition: Half the action takes place aboard another cramped U-boat, while half takes place ashore, among the Nazi occupiers and French collaborators and resisters of La Rochelle, France, where the boats are based.”
The two threads are connected via Simone Strasser (Vicki Krieps) and her brother Frank (Leonard Scheicher), a crew member on U-612. Simone arrives in La Rochelle to work at police HQ. She was born in Alsace, which borders Germany and Switzerland and has alternated between German and French control over the centuries, which creates some conflict and questions as to where her loyalties lie.
As with any good WWII yarn, there are spies and double agents, and the resistance, in this case, it’s headed by American ex-pat Carla Monroe (Lizzy Caplan – Masters of Sex, and Castle Rock Season 2), who has a fondness for morphine.
To delve further into the plot will create too many spoilers, so let’s leave it at that. It all fits skilfully, albeit often tragically, together.
Das Boot is in German with English subtitles. This is good, because you can eat chips and still follow the story. It’s bad because you can’t look away from the screen for a moment to fiddle on your phone or pour more wine, because you’ll miss something crucial. Das Boot, with its duality on land and under the sea, will require your full concentration, and it will not fail you for a moment.