Film Review: Engaging WWII Thriller “The Arctic Convoy”

konvoi - the arctic convoy - movie poster one sheetThe Norwegian Merchant Marine played a critical, if unheralded, part in World War II, transporting supplies to the Russians through dangerous German-controlled waters. These convoys were protected by the British Navy, but U-Boats and Luftwaffe bombers were an endless threat, sinking too many of these civilian ships en route. The film Konvoi (The Arctic Convoy) takes place during the summer of 1942, and many of the Merchant Marines have been away from home for years, endlessly transporting munitions and supplies to the Russian front. This particular route is Iceland to Murmansk, a 12-day transit.

On the cargo ship Hestmanden, the crew’s mostly been part of these nerve-wracking convoys before and know that the best strategy is to just keep moving forward regardless of what transpires. There are going to be attacks and other ships are going to sink, but the mission is to reach the destination, not turn away or hide in a friendly or neutral port.

Captain of the ship is Skar (Anders Baasmo) with first mate Mørk (Tobias Santelmann), radio operator Ragnhild (Heidi Ruud Ellingsen) and chief engineer Lars (Preben Hodneland). Captain Skar is an old school leader who sugar-coats all the news he shares with the crew, while Mørk was captain of another ship that sunk after being attacked by the Germans. Lars, for his part, is completely overwhelmed by the endless terror of being in areas controlled by a murderous enemy and is ready to quit completely.

A few days into this particular convoy and there’s a problem that causes the British Navy experts to recommend that the convoy disperse. But Captain Skar doesn’t want to do that, he’s convinced that they can make it through, Naval protection or not. After all, the last things the Germans would expect is for the civilian vessels to continue northward to Murmansk.

konvoi - the arctic convoy - publicity still photo

Captain Skor (Baasmo) looks on as one of the convoy ships is sunk, from “The Arctic Convoy”

When he hides news of the loss of the Naval escort from the crew, however, there’s much dissent from the crew, led by Mørk, who is convinced it’s foolhardy and potentially suicidal to proceed solo. When Skar is injured and Mørk temporarily takes control of the ship, he’s got a completely different plan. But what’s going to happen when the Captain finally wakes up and finds out what’s transpired?

The engines fail and the First Mate decides that if they go off course into the arctic ice, they can take the time needed to repair the engines without being bothered by the German Air Force. That doesn’t quite work out as expected, and they have no maneuverability in the thick ice field, but they concoct an ingenious solution to increase the ship’s ability to blend in with its icy surroundings.

The Arctic Convoy is a compelling and sporadically exciting film, very well assembled with entirely convincing visual effects. The performances were less convincing overall, but it’s such an interesting story of clashing leadership styles that it’s still a very watchable WWII drama.

Making it more interesting to history buffs is that it’s based on the true story of Convoy PQ-17 that had its British Naval escort turn back due to bad intel, the only one of the 78 WWII convoys to have this occur. This incident is considered one of the great British intelligence failures of the war: Of 35 ships in the convoy, only 11 arrived in Murmansk. In Norwegian with English subtitles. Recommended.

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dave taylor vertigo film swirl backgroundPlanet Dave is run by Dave Taylor, who has been writing about film, cars, games, and his lifestyle for many years. He's based in Boulder, Colorado and assures readers he's only occasionally falling into a gravity well or temporal distortion field.

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