If you haven’t seen it:
This is the true story of a crucial but not very well-known episode of the second world war. The British navy learns that the Germans are sending a huge battleship to wreak havoc in the Atlantic, and they must stop it, whatever the cost.
The movie alternates Apollo 13 style between the back-room strategists and the action on board the ships (both British and German). The special effects might not quite be up to the standards of Ron Howard’s Hollywood blockbuster but it makes up for it with tension and excitement.
If you have seen it:
Scroll down for more.
SPOILER ALERT: The plot summary and comments below contain details that might spoil your enjoyment of the movie if you have not already seen it.
It is 1941 and Britain stands alone against the Nazis.
On his first day in his role as chief of operations at the Admiralty war room, Captain John Shepard hears news that The Bismarck, Germany’s biggest and most powerful battleship, has been spotted “steaming through the Kattegat”. He realizes that if The Bismarck makes it to the Atlantic, it will be able to link up with submarines and other battleships, and make it extremely difficult for troops and supplies coming over from the States.
Shepard orders two of his own battleships to intercept the Bismark, but the Bismarck destroys one of them (the HMS Hood) and damages the other.
A telephone call from Winston Churchill confirms to Shepard that sinking the Bismarck is top priority, whatever the risk. Shepard therefore diverts resources away from convoy duty, and also orders the Ark Royal to leave Gibralta and join the hunt.
The captain of the Bismarck manages to outmanoeuvre the British ships that are following it, and for a while nobody knows where it is. Shepard’s hunch however, that the Germans will head for the French coast, pays off, and they find it, and engage. Air attacks originating from the Ark Royal damage the Bismarck’s rudder, leaving it vulnerable to attack from the other British ships that are closing in. The Bismarck sinks another British ship, but eventually is destroyed.
Back in the Admiralty, Shepard learns that his son, who was on board the Ark Royal, is safe (he had previously been declared missing). In a celebratory mood, Shepard asks Anne, the attractive young WREN officer, out on a date. She says yes.
Steve Sunday Says:
I really love it when I enjoy a movie because it is exciting or funny and then afterwards I feel I have gained something more than just entertainment. As a member of an infantilized generation who would wet their pants and cry for their mummies at the merest suggestion of an enemy invasion, I am always astonished at the bravery and stoicism of the generation that had to deal with the Nazis, and this movie illustrated that bravery well.
Now that that is clear, let’s have a laugh shall we, at these moments of unintentional hilarity in the film:
13 min 56s
|I realized that the Commander in Chief used to be the voice of Paddington Bear in the old TV show. Sadly, we never see him wearing a duffle coat.|
16 min 19s
|Anne auditions for a job as a weather girl in case her naval career does not work out.|
19 min 38s
|Lütjens swivels round in his chair like a Bond villain. I half expected to see him stroking a cat.|
38 min 12s
|I wrote down in my notepad “Airfix models in a bath” (perhaps slightly unfairly).|
46 min 4s
|The worst Winston Churchill impression I have ever heard, including my dad’s.|
85 min 50s
|The least convincing “death” I can remember seeing since I used to play “Japs and English” with my friend Mark in the 1970s.|
The revelation in the closing credits that Captain Shepard was a fictional character came as a bit of a blow to me as a reviewer, as I had given quite a bit of thought to the man, and whether or not I liked him. He seemed to be a bit of a dick at first with his demand for discipline, and I was planning on writing a tongue-in-cheek review comparing him to Gordon Ramsay. After going on at some length about how irritating it is that some people seem to get away with being obnoxious just because they happen to be successful, I was going to point out some reasons why Captain Shepard did actually need strict discipline. He was responsible for thousands of lives, whereas Gordon Ramsay is just responsible for a bit of dinner. Now that I have discovered there never actually was a Captain Shepard, the issue of whether or not he was a dick seems a bit irrelevant, and I don’t think I can use my Gordon Ramsay comparison after all. Shame. I think you would have enjoyed it.
“Sink the Bismarck” – a poem by Paul Perro
Captain Shepard was truly a hero
They told him to sink the Bismarck and so
He sent it to the bottom of the ocean.
He got the girl, and probably, promotion.
Wasn’t he brave and wasn’t he clever?
There’s just one thing that spoils it however;
Captain Shepard was fictional, not real.
I wonder, how did Captain Edwards feel.
Trivia Trish Says:
- The film was made with the full cooperation of the Admiralty. Real soon-to-be-scrapped ships were used in some scenes.
- The screenplay was based on the book Hunting the Bismarck by C S Forester, author of The African Queen and the Hornblower series.
- Unusually for a British war film, this movie was a hit in USA.
History Man says:
Sink the Bismarck is often praised for its historical accuracy, but there are a few significant errors and omissions:
- The film was made before code-breaking activities of Bletchley Park was made public, so the film does not include the crucial fact that a Luftwaffe Enigma transmission was intercepted and decoded. Shepard’s “hunch” that the Bismarck was on its way to the French coast, was actually based on good intelligence.
- Damage done to the British forces was overstated – only the Hood was actually sunk, and none of the planes were shot down.
- German fleet commander Admiral Lütjens is portrayed as a typical Nazi, bitter, and committed to the cause. However, it is believed he was actually quite a thoughtful and decent man. He risked his career and his life by publicly protesting against anti-Semitic atrocities, and he famously refused to give Hitler a Nazi salute at the launch of the Bismarck.
- The film omits the fact that the British were later criticized for not picking up more survivors from the Bismarck. The British claimed that they believed there was a German submarine in the area.
The wreck of the Bismarck was discovered in 1989 by John Ballard, the man who discovered the Titanic. It has since been surveyed.
Main Cast and Crew:
Kenneth More as Captain Jonathan Shepard
Dana Wynter as 2nd Officer Anne Davis
Carl Möhner as Captain Lindemann
Karel Štěpánek as Admiral Günther Lütjens
Laurence Naismith as Sir Dudley Pound
directed by Lewis Gilbert.
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