TV/Film: David Jason meets a submarine

Recently I had a chance to watch the TV Film “Ghostboat” that was shown in two parts on ITV3. When I saw the adverts for the first episode my interested was piqued for two reasons – the first was that it is set on a submarine, and secondly that the lead actor is David Jason.

Have you ever read a series of books, in which the last of the sequence just didn’t quite live up to the standards of the earlier novels? Ghostboat was designed to be broadcast in two episodes, and it just feels that the first episode received more attention than the second. I wonder if this had something to do with the fact the first episode has to sell the second episode, whereas the second episode doesn’t have a similar need – just as the first book in a series should make you purchase the next one and so on, but the final book no longer has that imperative. This felt a little like that.

The plot is simple enough. It is 1981, and a British World War 2 submarine suddenly surfaces. It is in pristine condition. The submarine disappeared back in 1943 in the Baltic, and there was only one survivor – Jack Hardy (played by David Jason) who had complete amnesia of the last week or so of the patrol. Now a mission is formulated to take this submarine back into the Baltic, retracing the route of the earlier voyage, to try to work out what happened … and stuff happens on the way. A large part of the story is how Jack, whose mental state is not the most stable, reacts to all the journey and to the changes that take place.

There is a touch of the supernatural to this film, though I wouldn’t go so far as to call it horror – more suspense. There is alot of “stuff” that never gets fully explained because the characters do not understand themselves what is going on. I rather like that approach. The film also has a claustrophobic element since, apart from the first portion of the movie, it is almost entirely set in the confines of the submarine in question.

The submarine set is actually quite a beautiful thing if one likes submarines, and very much has the “feel” of a world war 2 submarine. Somewhat prettier perhaps than Das Boot, but that more or less fits within the story. On the other hand, the routines of daily life on a submarine are far from authentic. You do not need to know a great deal about submarines to have to fairly dramatically suspend disbelief. One rather suspects the screenwriter decided it was just not important.

This leads me back to my first point, in that likewise I think it is quite clear more care was taken on the first portion of the story than the second. The first half, or episode, is quite a well put together piece of film with a nice overall pace. In the second half/episode things just start to fray at the edges. The sense of timing is no longer quite there, the lines seem a little looser, and all in all it just does not quite “click”.

David Jason was very good in the role of Jack Hardy, and I think he played the part of someone with considerable mental fragility under strain very well. Indeed, if this story were told slightly differently one could quite easily be tempted to think it was some sort of dream or hallucination on his character’s part.

Apparently it is based on a previous novel, and I wonder if maybe some of those weaknesses relate to the original work. Despite its shortcomings however I enjoyed watching this story. I do wonder what perhaps it might have been with a little more care and attention and/or more money behind it. However, at the end of the day it is what it is – a tv film that does not pretend to be a way to be entertained for a few hours in an evening. In that role is succeeds admirably.

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