There was a time when the term “Europudding” was the kiss of death. It was applied to movies and TV series made with money and artistic input from various European countries. Maybe a French star, a German writer and an English director, and what you got was something nobody could digest.
No longer. This current age of great TV has allowed all manner of storytelling to be elastic and excellent. The British make Nordic-style thrillers, Netflix is everywhere and standards are so high that nothing gets an easy pass for being a nice Euro co-operation. A sterling example is a new series derived from the very male and classic German movie Das Boot, from 1981. That was set almost entirely among the crew of a German U-boat in the first years of the Second World War. The series isn’t just that. It expands beautifully outward and inward. And it’s a Germany/France/U.S. co-production.
Das Boot (all episodes available to stream on CBC Gem) is also part of an odd little trend. That is, multipart series based on books that were made into good movies. Recently we’ve seen a new adaptation of Catch-22 from Hulu, and a miniseries based on The Name of The Rose aired on Sundance TV. Ongoing, of course, is the multiseason adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale, another novel that was first turned into a film.
Here, the eight-episode Das Boot (in German, French and English and with English subtitles) is more of a sequel than a retelling of the movie’s narrative. About half the storyline is set on land. And that’s what makes it at first intriguing, especially to anyone who knows the movie, and then it becomes a first-rate, top-drawer wartime thriller.
It opens in 1942 in the German-occupied French port town of La Rochelle. The German navy is rapidly building and launching more U-boats. The advantage brought by the boats is starting to wane and too many are being lost because the Allies can find and destroy them, or mechanical failure is making them useless.
A newly appointed captain Klaus Hoffmann (Rick Okon), whose father was a legendary U-boat captain is about to take over a just-completed boat. He’s an aloof figure, troubled by the weight of his father’s reputation and immediately has issues with his second in command, Karl (August Wittgenstein, who was in The Crown). Trouble is looming on that claustrophobic submarine.
Meanwhile, a young woman, Simone Strasser (Vicky Krieps from the movie Phantom Thread), arrives to work as a translator for the German military. She’s from the Alsace region of France, and says she’s happier being German. Her younger brother Frank (Leonard Schleicher) is railroaded into being the radio operator on the new U-boat. Before he leaves he asks her to meet someone, on his behalf, and exchange some documents.
What unfolds then, in a finely made thriller mode, is Simone’s introduction to the French resistance. Her brother has linked her to Carla Monroe (Lizzy Caplan, from Masters of Sex), a Resistance fighter whose anti-fascist leanings previously had her fighting in the Spanish Civil War.
The drama is a series of thrillers inside thrillers. On land, there is a seething tension beneath what the Germans think is a strong grip on things. At sea, frightened angry men come to loathe each other. Each character has layers beneath what we first see. Some scenes are blunt in their depiction of violence – there’s sex and nudity too – and throughout there’s a livid tension. Highly recommended.
Also airing this weekend – Highwire Live in Times Square With Nik Wallenda (Sunday, 8 p.m., ABC, City TV) is Nik Wallenda and his sister Lijana attempting to perform a 400-metre-long highwire walk across Times Square. They will start at opposite ends and meet in the middle, pass each other and continue to the end opposite from where they started. It’s Lijana’s first big-ticket stunt since a serious accident a few years ago. These live highwire specials have been a ratings gold mine for ABC in the past.
Apollo 11 (Sunday, CNN, 9 p.m.) is not one of those quickie-specials that CNN sometimes airs on weekends. Shown with limited commercial interruption, it’s director/producer Todd Douglas Miller‘s epic feature documentary capturing the tense, exhilarating period of the first landing on the moon. Using a lot of recently discovered 70 mm footage and more than 11,000 hours of audio recordings, Miller worked with NASA to locate, digitize and restore all sources of material related to the Apollo 11 mission.