Netflix's latest Norwegian series War Sailor is actually a miniseries adaptation of the critically acclaimed feature film that was released last October.


Announced in February 2023, Netflix has now released the three-part drama that features new and never-seen-before footage, which has been a dream, according to Norwegian screenwriter and director Gunnar Vikene.

Speaking about the new series, he said: "War Sailor was originally written both as a feature film and as a miniseries and I couldn't really let go of the initial idea of ​​telling the story in both formats.

"When we were editing the feature film, we realized that a lot of the footage didn't fit in the well-over two-hour-long feature film. Fortunately, Netflix accepted the challenge, and throughout the autumn we worked on making a three-hour mini-series – with several new scenes to be able to show the whole story not just to the Norwegian public, but also the rest of the world.”

The film followed the gripping tale of merchant sailors who were caught in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean during Germany's invasion of Norway. They were hijacked into working for the Allied war effort but is the story behind the film and series one based on facts?

Read on for everything you need to know about the true story behind War Sailor.

Is War Sailor based on a true story?

War Sailor
The cast of War Sailor. Netflix

The new limited series and film are indeed based on a true story. Well, an amalgamation of true stories of Norwegian merchant sailors and their families during and after World War II.

The reality that the film and series are based on is the fact that when Norway (a neutral country) was invaded in 1940, approximately 30,000 Norwegians at sea had already been under siege by the Germans for months

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But in 1939, Norway's government struck a deal with the British stating that they would use all of their merchant ships (with the civilians that were working on them) to aid in the war, thus creating a new group of people aboard these 1,100 vessels who became unintentional “war sailors”.

They ferried supplies across the world to support Allies including France, the USSR, Great Britain and the US (in 1941), but also had to battle the Germans. It led to around 4,000 deaths and despite it all, the stories of these civilians largely went untold. Because the merchant fleet they were a part of didn't exactly qualify as military, these individuals were largely forgotten from the general narrative around the war.

The War Sailor series is no different from the film in terms of premise, but it features new and unreleased footage from the 2022 film of the same name. The original film was a standout success and Norway’s most expensive movie production to date but it was all worth it, as Netflix decided to make this series.

Vikene adapted the film into this series which follows Alfred Garnes, a working-class sailor who has recently become the father of a third child.

According to the synopsis: "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."

Informed that Norway has commandeered all of their merchant ships to be used to help allies, the pair are suddenly forced into the war in a way they didn't expect. As they struggle to survive in this world of death, sunken ships and violence, they have to focus on their one goal of surviving and returning home.

Elsewhere, we also follow Alfred's wife Cecilia who has to live through the war alone in Bergen, raising three children, not knowing whether she will ever see her husband again. And when British aircrafts attempt to bomb a German submarine bunker in Bergen, they instead hit the primary school at Laksevåg and civilian homes at Nøstet, which results in hundreds of civilian deaths.

When the news reaches Alfred and Wally in Canada, they wonder if they have anything left at home to return to. While Vikene considers his depiction fictional, the characters in War Sailor are inspired by real people, making for a gripping, realistic tale of how the war tore apart families and forced civilians into warfare.

War Sailor is now available to stream on Netflix. Sign up for Netflix from £4.99 a month. Netflix is also available on Sky Glass and Virgin Media Stream.

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