Sunk by Mike Walker

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Production Information

BBC Radio 4, 28 May 2011
In 1943 Josef Goebbels (Jason Watkins) conceived a film retelling the story of the sinking of the Titanic from a pro-Nazi perspective. The American and British capitalists who built the ship from inferior materials would be the enemies, while among the passengers and crew there would be 'good' Germans, whose heroism and fortitude in the face of disaster would be held up as an example of good behaviour. Goebbels engaged the writer Walter Zerlett-Olfenius (Richard Laing) and the director Herbert Selpin (Blake Ritson) to undertake the task; the two of them had worked successfully together in the past, and there seemed no reason why they should not carry out their superior's wishes.
Mike Walker's Sunk tells the story of the making of the film. Goebbels is portrayed as a sublimely interventionist patron; the German Titanic has to reflect the party line. otherwise the creative personnel will be efficently disposed of. Selpin makes the mistake of using the film to criticize Nazi policy - both at home and on the Russian front; he is quietly removed from the picture and transported back to Berlin. Goebbels subsequently reports that Selpin met with an "unfortunate death" on the way, due to a "heart-attack."
At the play's centre stands Zerlett-Olfenius, a creative writer trying to remain true to his beliefs yet perpetually aware that he is nothing more than a hired hand. When Goebbels asks him how the film is progressing, he blames Selpin for departing from his script; and suffers incredible guilt afterwards, as he realizes that he has been entirely responsible for the director's death. His beliefs have been sunk by his fears of reprisal from the Nazis.
Walker's account of the film comments implicitly on the shortcomings of the Nazi regime. Goebbels' attention is so taken up with the Titanic story that he fails to recognize how badly the Germans are faring on the Russian front. Like the ship, their cause has been "sunk." However no one has the courage to speak out; the only way to survive is to follow the course pursued by leading actress Sybille Schmitz (Lucy Cohu), and drink oneself into oblivion. Despite Goebbels' insistence to the contrary, Nazism actually represses rather than encourages creativity.
The film was eventually completed, but any thoughts of a major release in Germany were quietly forgotten. Titanic resurfaced after the Second World War had ended, but it never achieved a major release. Despite the creative talents involved, the project (like the regime that initiated it) was eventually sunk. The director of this Saturday Play was Gemma McMullan.