Set in the Second World War, Netflix’s ‘War Sailor’ shows the horrors of war from the point of view of civilians. The story follows Freddy and his family, who are separated when he goes to work on a merchant ship. Accompanied by his best friend Sigbjørn, Freddy takes the job to earn more money and better his family’s financial situation. But the men scramble to save themselves from the enemy they were never prepared for when the war breaks out. Because the film is based on true events, you might wonder if its characters are also based on real people.
Freddy and Sigbjørn are Inspired by Civilians who Served in WWII
The characters of Alfred Garnes, aka Freddy, and Sigbjørn Kvalvåg are inspired by real people, but their portrayal in the film is mostly fictional. Writer-director Gunnar Vikene first met one such sailor when he was thirteen. He saw one of his father’s colleagues walking “around the edge, 60 meters from the ground.” “I couldn’t understand why he was doing it. But then my father told me he had been torpedoed twice and seen so many horrors. It got to me, and since I have family members who sailed, I started collecting these stories,” Vikene said.
He came across the stories of Alfred and Sigbjørn in the early 90s and continued to research similar stories. He based the characters in the movie on the combined experiences he found in his research. “What I can say is that every war-related incident in the film actually happened. I read everything that I have come across. Alfred is not here anymore to explain anything, so I consider these fictional versions of the characters. But they are based on real people,” the director added.
Stating that “90% of people dying in war today are civilians,” Vikene wanted to write a war story from the perspective of the working class. “Since I am a working-class guy, I thought about the fact that you never heard about the working-class perspective of the war. I could not understand why we have made so many films about the Second World War, but there are none from the working class perspective,” he said.
While many harrowing scenes depict Freddy and Sigbjørn in the heat of battle, the scene that truly shows the depth of their experience is their final meeting. Vikene revealed that the scene is inspired by the story of a person’s grandfather who was a sailor during World War II. “ He told me that in the last years of his granddad’s life, his granddad said, ‘It’s not the torpedoing that gives me nightmares; it’s everything that could have been but never was.’ The final scene features sailors as older men, and when they visit each other, they simply can’t speak,” the director explained.
Vikene laments that people like Freddy and Sigbjørn were never credited for their role in winning the war. “They were never mentioned in relation to the war. They did not fit into the idea of the war hero. They did not have uniforms or guns or medals or anything. But at the same time, no one meant more for the result. Without them, the Allies would have lost the war. Period. There is no historian who does not agree with that,” the director said, emphasizing the importance of telling stories like ‘War Sailor.’
Vikene had the story in his mind for many years, but a conversation with his daughter in 2015 about the civil war in Syria pushed him to finally get it on paper. “There was an image of a boy in the back of an ambulance, covered in dust, with big, shocked eyes. She started to cry and said, ‘I am so glad we don’t live in a country where we have to experience that,’” Vikene said. He told his daughter about the accidental bombing that had claimed the lives of many children in the Second World War. He later brought that horror alive in ‘War Sailor.’
When Vikene set out to make the film, he didn’t want to create a romanticized or heroic version of events. It wasn’t just about showing what happened during the war but also after it. “These men were vital, and they got no credit. Having met so many of them and seen how society has treated them has made me angry for years,” he said. He wanted to show that “Wars are not only won on the battlefield, sometimes it’s just ordinary people doing their job.” The director wanted to focus on the lives of ordinary people like Freddy and Sigbjørn, even if through a fictionalized lens.