Today: July 20, 2024

The Crimson Ocean

The tragic events of 15th April 1912, have been replayed so many times on film that the name Titanic has become etched in our consciousness.

The tragic events of 15th April 1912, have been replayed so
many times on film that the name Titanic has become etched in our
consciousness.
This year, marks the
centenary of the great liner’s sinking and the re-release of James Cameron’s Titanic in 3D will undoubtedly bring the ship’s tragic tale to a
whole new generation. However shocking the events of that night to remember
were, though, they pale in comparison to the sinking of the MV Wilhelm Gustloff, which claimed four
times as many lives as the Titanic disaster. The fact that most of us have
never even heard of the Wilhelm Gustloff is not that surprising. The Titanic
was a luxury liner, carrying the glitterti of the day. The Gustloff was the
flagship of the German navy, packed with refugees and Nazi officials escaping
the Russian advance. The Titanic was the victim of Mother Nature. The Gustloff
was that casualty of a brutal war, we’d all rather forget. Today the ship,
which was torpedoed by a Soviet sub. in January 1945, still lies in the dark
depths of the Baltic Sea. The wreck, which became a tomb for 9,300 men, women
and children, is marked simply as ‘Obstacle 73’ on maritime charts. So, it
seems fitting that director Joseph
Vilsmaier
should finally give the ghosts of the Gustloff a more appropriate
memorial.

The Crimson Ocean is
not the first film to deal with the story of the ill fated ‘Ship of No Return’.
The first, Nacht fiel über Gotenhafen
(Night Fell Over Gotenhafen) was made in 1959 and still stands as stark
indictment of the horrors of war. Crimson Ocean is no less harrowing. However,
rather than focus on the big picture of Europe at war, screenwriter Rainer Berg, has anchored his tale to
four main protagonists – Captain Hellmut Kehding, his fiancé, Erika, his
hard-headed brother, Harald, and a small family of disparate refugees. The
result is a more intimate, compelling story.

To this day, there’s never been an
inquirery into the sinking of the Gustloff, which is still the greatest
maritime disaster in history. So, unlike Titanic, which upset many families
with its portrayal of real people, Crimson Ocean’s characters are fictional.
But, they’re no mere stereotypes. Rather, they represent a few of the many, of
all backgrounds, who suffered and died as part of the greater tragedy, that was
World War II. The filmmakers have also been careful to avoid demonising either
the Soviet submarine crew or the Nazi Party officials onboard. The real villain
of the piece here is the War Machine, although, as the story unfolds, you’ll
find plenty of individuals to love and loathe as well.

Kai Wiesinger is
particularly believable as the antiestablishment Skipper of the Gustloff, whose
slow realisation of the hopelessness of his position, is played out with
tortured intensity. While Valerie
Niehaus
, as Erika, adds warmth and humanity to cold face of the Third
Reich.

With a 188-minute run time, there
are times when Crimson Ocean betrays its mini series roots and the DVD release
would perhaps have worked better in its original two-part format. Could The
Crimson Ocean be the Das Boot (1981)
for the 21st Century? Only time will tell. However, no one does steely, sober
drama better than Germany and Crimson Ocean has all the makings of a cult
classic.

Alex Moss Editor

Alex Moss’ obsession with film began the moment he witnessed the Alien burst forth from John Hurt’s stomach. It was perhaps ill-advised to witness this aged 6 but much like the beast within Hurt, he became infected by a parasite called ‘Movies’. Rarely away from his computer or a big screen, as he muses on Cinematic Deities, Alex is “more machine now than man. His mind is twisted and evil”. Email: alex.moss@filmjuice.com

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