War Sailor: A Spoiler Review

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Theatrical poster for War Sailor


War Sailor (2023) is a Norwegian miniseries available on Netflix internationally. It is an adaptation of the feature film of the same name that was Norway’s Official Selection for the Oscars 2023. It has just 3 episodes of approximately 1 hour each. Rated 15 U.K. In Norwegian, some German and occasional English with English subtitles.


“Alfred Garnes is a working-class sailor, who has recently become the father of a third child. He and his childhood friend Sigbjørn Kvalen (Wally) are working on a merchant ship in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean when World War II breaks out. They are unarmed civilians on the front lines of a war they never asked to join. The two men struggle for survival in a spiral of violence and death, where at any moment German submarines may attack their valuable vessels. The war sailors have one goal: to survive and to return home.” IMDb


Ine Marie Wilmann as Cecilia
Pål Sverre Hagen as Sigbjørn
Kristoffer Joner as Alfred
Alexandra Gjerpen as Hanna Wiig
Arthur Hakalahti as Braathen
Henrikke Lund Olsen as Magdeli
Armand Hannestad as William
Leon Tobias Slettbakk as Aksel Andresen
Karl Vidar Lende as Monsen
Mats Holm as Birger Mohr
Téa Grønner Joner as Magdeli after the war
Daniel Berg as William after the war
Oskar Hallaråker Hellesøy as Olav after the war
Chris André Lee as Welder


Writer: Gunnar Vikene
Director: Gunnar Vikene
Composer: Volker Bertelmann
Cinematographer: Sturla Brandth Grøvlen
Editors: Peter Brandt, Anders Albjerg Kristiansen
Costume Designer: Stefanie Bieker
Special Effects: Gonzalo Outeda Giménez


War Sailor (the original film) was Norway’s Official Selection for the Oscars 2023. This miniseries is more or less the film split into 3 episodes.


Bergen, Hordaland, Norway

⚠️ This review contains spoilers ⚠️


I had been following War Sailor, the film, for some considerable time before it was even selected for the Oscars by Norway. Being familiar with some of the cast from other productions made it appealing along with the subject matter which was out of the ordinary. I will confess that I was a little disappointed that it wasn’t the film that came to Netflix but an adapted miniseries but I tried to put that aside however while watching the series. I didn’t binge-watch this (perhaps I should have) but watched it over three days).

There are some real positives in this miniseries. Firstly, the story told has a uniqueness about it, I cannot recall the last film I saw that was centred on the merchant marine (of any country) in wartime. Being Norwegian it also has a very particular perspective.

I loved the cinematography and use of both music and ambient noise to create atmosphere and, at times, tension (more about tension later).

The costuming of this series is excellent throughout as is the makeup, especially the injury details and ageing. I must say however that the haircuts of the merchant sailors for a proportion of this bothered me because they were not remotely period correct (was this due to the logistics of filming perhaps?)

I thought the acting throughout this was fantastic, especially by Pål Sverre Hagen as Sigbjørn and
Kristoffer Joner as Alfred. Also, the children (of various ages) were very impressive.

My favourite episode was the final one which I found, and this might be a bit odd, the most consistently emotionally affecting. I found the first episode, although it set the context and characters well, a bit overlong and it dragged a bit in places.

I did have some issues with the way that tension was created (or not) at various stages notably in the middle episode. And there was something strangely inert at times with the way events were depicted on screen. There were a lot of aftermaths and not so much high tension building up to catastrophic events.

Whilst I could feel sympathy with most characters I do feel that having the one woman on board the ship portrayed in a way that makes her difficult to like then had the knock-on effect of my not caring later when she died (in fact I felt mild relief).

The rescue of the survivors of a U-boat attack and the death of the young lad from the loss of his leg were very well done. The giving of the fatal dose of morphine was effective to watch. I would have liked it had there been some sort of explanation as to why the U-boat couldn’t take him because, in reality, all those men knew it could not and would not. I would have preferred had more time been spent on their time stranded on the raft.

Another part I found curious was how quickly and easily Alfred recovered from opium addiction. It was almost as by a magic wand had been waved over him. I would have liked more of that.

Although the captions show the number of merchant ships lost maybe it should have added lives lost. “Ships” don’t per se mean a whole lot to most people. Even if it were only an estimate.

I would have preferred us, as viewers, to know that his wife and children were not dead because that would have built up dramatic irony which is otherwise missing. As it is it feels a bit manipulative but also, strangely, lacked a massive impact that they were alive all along when we see them again.

This may all sound like I didn’t “enjoy” this series, I did, but I have a feeling that I may have preferred to have watched it as a film 2 1/2-hour film instead.

For a story with a rarity value, that shows the terrible impact of war upon both individuals and their families I do think this a very worthwhile watch.

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