The Battle that Needed Fighting.
For the first on Blu-ray in the UK, Eureka Classics totally live up to their name with this Lewis Gilbert (Reach for the Sky, Alfie, You Only Live Twice, The Spy Who Loved Me, Shirley Valentine) WWII re-enactment of one of the most important sea battles of the early stages of the world wide conflict. Based on the book by C.S. Forester (The African Queen, Captain Horatio Hornblower), the film shows the British effort to stop the greatest battleship, Bismarck, from getting into the North Atlantic and destroying the cargo ships that were keeping Britain afloat before the USA joined in with the War effort.
The film opens with a German news reel of the launching of the hull of the Bismark on the 14th of February 1939 at the docks of Hamburg.
It is now 1941, a time when the North Atlantic is ruled by U-boats and they have sunk 600,000 tons of ships and much needed cargo. Now the newly trialed battleship is in the Baltic Sea, along with its heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen and they intend to sail into the vast open waters of the North Atlantic and sink Britain’s hopes of continuing its fight against the Nazi’s.
Captain Jonathan Shepard (Kenneth More, Battle of Britain, The Longest Day, The 39 Steps, Genevieve) is just about to take up his new promotion as the Admiralty’s chief of operations
Shepard is a hard nosed man who runs a tight ship and wants everything done to regulations. He is introduced to his assistant Second Officer Anne Davis (Dana Wynter, Airport, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Crimson Pirate) and his first memo is that everybody follows regulations. A report comes in that two ships have been spotted but not identified conclusively. Shepard talks to First Sea Lord – Sir Dudley Pound – Admiral of the Fleet (Laurence Naismith, Village of the Damned, Diamonds Are Forever) who mentions that the fleet is spread thin due to the Germans assault on Crete and Shepard decides that the report must be confirmed at all costs, even contacting a spy directly.
It is partially confirmed as the Prinz Eugen was definitely sighted before the transmission was cut short. With this information Shepard has to move forward and try to put a fleet together from the North Atlantic and he pulls ships from convoy cover to head North, even sending 20,000 troops to the Middle East without a destroyer.
“I’m told he’s as cold as a witches heart.
That may be a slight slight exaggeration Sir!
I want a man who’s cold, I’ll take a man who has no heart at all, no soul, just an enormous brain.”
The pride of the British fleet, the Hood is with the King George V and the Prince of Wales are being held in Scapa Flow North Scotland and Shepard and his assistants have a dilemma. Which way of four will the Bismark take? Captained by Kapitän Ernst Lindemann (Carl Möhner, The Fall of Rome, Gold Train) but under direction from Admiral Günther Lutjens (Karel Stepanek, Operation Crossbow, Our Man in Havana) a bitter man who was overlooked after the first World War.
The Suffolk and the Norfolk keep watch on the Denmark Strait but there are two days of heavy fog and low cloud enabling the Bismark to bypass the British surveillance, but they are spotted and it is radioed back and the Hood and the Prince of Wales make steam to catch the Bismark at dawn.
The four battleships open fire and the Admiral on the Bismark bristles with pride as he shows off the prowess of his charge. With one fell swoop nearly 1,500 seamen are lost as the Hood is decimated in an explosion with only three survivors. The Prince of Wales returns fire but the armour on the Bismark is thick and the shells do little damage unlike the Bismark’s huge guns that hit the Prince of Wales in the bridge, destroying it, and leaving only two men alive. The ship is hit multiple times before it makes smoke and retreats.
“Solid foot of armour plate, that’s what the Bismark’s got.
Who said so?
The gunnery officer that’s who. Said for all the good our guns would do, we might as well throw crumpets at her.
I wish someone would throw a crumpet at me.”
What will Shepard do now the pride of the British fleet has been destroyed so easily? Will anything stop the Bismark? Watch and find out in this excellent historical film. One for the historian and any Kenneth More fan.
BLU-RAY SPECIAL FEATURES
1080p presentation on Blu-ray
LPCM audio (Stereo and original Mono options)
Optional English SDH subtitles
Brand New and Exclusive interview with film historian Sheldon Hall
Original Theatrical Trailer