Is it too facile to say that Europe is a mess—except on TV? In the news, Europe is divided, rife with protest and nationalist movements, seemingly at war with itself. On our small screens we have beautifully produced pan-European dramas with actors from all over the continent, speaking a babel of languages, delivering solid, sophisticated escapism. These are the dramas raising the bar on high-brow TV, shows like Chernobyl, The Little Drummer Girl, My Brilliant Friend, and Babylon Berlin, to name a few.
Das Boot is another entry in this category—call it EU TV—and an impressive one. This eight-part WW II thriller, which begins streaming on Hulu on June 17, has a Luxembourger as its star (Vicky Krieps, from Phantom Thread), several French actors, a couple of Brits and Americans (including Lizzy Caplan from Masters of Sex), and a passel of Germans. The languages are French, German, and English, and it is (loosely) based on the celebrated German submarine film from 1981, a movie I remember my parents raving about and which I found incomprehensibly slow (I was six).
Das boot translates to “the boat,” and that’s where we begin, in a German U-boat battling Allied warships in the Atlantic in 1942. The sequence, confined to the interior of the German sub as it dives to elude attack, is a knockout: claustrophobic, nail-biting, and, ultimately, horrific. Handsome as this show is, it is fairly raw too, and the stakes are set early. Losing this war won’t be pretty. Back on dry land, in the port city of La Rochelle, France, the Nazis are in charge, German sailors are running amok in the brasseries, and the Gestapo are looking to stamp out Resistance cells. Simone Strasser is a benevolent German in this mix, working as a translator—and a Gestapo officer, played by Tom Wlaschiha (last seen in Game of Thrones), has his eye on her. Her brother, Frank (Leonard Scheicher), is another “good German”—who saddles his sister with a secret and a nighttime rendezvous with the Resistance before he is drafted aboard a submarine for its maiden voyage.
What follows—I’ve watched a little more than half the season—is an elegantly entertaining wartime suspense story. The narrative shifts between the confines of the submarine, a knife-thin envelope of steel that keeps the men on top of each other (and at each others’ throats), and La Rochelle, where Simone is drawn into a shadowy espionage plot against the Nazis. The submarine sequences are definitely the more gripping parts, but the onshore Krieps is a joy to watch (as she was in Phantom Thread), letting fear and anxiety play subtly across her face as she fends off the advances of her Gestapo suitor and goes toe to toe with Lizzy Caplan as an American head of a Resistance cell. Das Boot, a hit in Europe, has already been renewed for a second season—good news for those of us who can’t get enough of EU TV.
Originally Appeared on Vogue