Conflict between nations touches the lives of far more than just the fighters. War Sailor is a Norwegian movie that explores the effects of World War II on merchant sailors conscripted to aid the Allies with vital supply runs to England.
They left Norway by boat for work, remained at sea by law, and often ultimately lay at the bottom of the ocean, sunk by war.
What Is War Sailor About?
Principally we follow friends, family man Alfred (Kristoffer Joner) and affable loner Sigbjørn (Pål Sverre Hagen).
With work drying up at the docks, Alfred reluctantly signs up with Sigbjørn to a merchant shipping run to New York scheduled to take him away from his wife and three children for 18 months.
His daughter, Maggie (Henrikke Lund-Olsen) is enraged, convinced that her father will not survive as hostilities with Germany bristle in 1939.
The resultant story covers the length of the war through 1945 and beyond, as Alfred and Sigbjørn struggle to get back home.
A large proportion of the conscripted ships, and crew, did not survive the convoys they were forced to undertake as German U-Boats and aerial attacks hunted them down.
That communication lines were severed, and Norway occupied by Nazi Germany, made keeping families together all the more impossible.
War Sailor is a heartrending drama infused deeply with sorrow and unrecognised effort. Joner is superb. His buoyant familial love is slowly sapped out of him by separation and circumstance.
His noble efforts to rescue people adrift overboard (when the captain refuses to slow down) is slowly replaced by a need to protect the new ‘family’ of those around him at sea.
These people were not soldiers, but risked being branded ‘traitors’ and blacklisted from work should they ever try to leave.
Equal weight is given to those left behind, in limbo as to the fate of their loved ones. Ine Marie Wilmann, as Alfred’s wife, Cecilia, portrays a woman with no choice but to carry on and raise her children.
Her desperation whilst searching through rubble – after an Allied forces attempt to bomb German U-Boat production accidentally destroys other vital buildings – is a masterclass in barely contained anguish.
War Sailor Official Trailer
Is War Sailor Worth Watching?
War Sailor is originally designed as a film running at 2hrs 30 minutes, so it is unclear why Netflix have chosen to cut it into three episodes instead.
This does make the viewing experience a little disjointed; episodes end abruptly in places that were only designed as scene breaks. It also leeches out some of the effect of the ending which works better if you go through the whole ordeal in one go.
The human drama is soaked into the bones of each scene, even whilst War Sailor kicks in with nail-biting action. As torpedoes blast uncertain death, a reverberating cello-based score echoes the yawning collapse of metal; the plunging depths of the ocean ever ready to swallow those hapless souls who are cast adrift.
“I won’t apologise,” says Cecilia pragmatically at one point. “Nor should you,” is the reply she receives. These characters carry the weight of the lives that circumstance hoist upon them, even if the psychological damage changes them irreparably.
No compensation or military pensions awaited these people. All they received on return was the struggle to locate employment.
War Sailor respectfully does justice to those not often acknowledged in war, but without whom Churchill himself said Britain would have fallen.
Words by Mike Record