Director/Screenplay/Production Design – Andrew Martin, Story – Paul Forrest, Producers – Paul D. Forrest, Photography – Felix Forrest, Music – Hugo De Chaire, Visual Effects Supervisor – Ross Edwards, Special Effects Supervisor – Matthew Strange. Production Company – Ecaveo Capital Partners/Entitled Productions
Edmund Kingsley (Guy Taylor), Lisa Greenwood (Charlotte Taylor), David Wayman (Harry Lyndhurst), Nigel Barber (Agent Spann), Gil Kolirin (Graham Bennett), Michael Koltes (Bob Elijas), Ged Petkunas (Russian Commander), Edgar Rove (Pavel Patsaev)
1959, during the height of the Cold War. Britain has launched their first manned space capsule Hermes with astronaut Guy Taylor aboard. However, something has gone wrong aboard Hermes and Taylor is drifting with faulty equipment and low oxygen supplies. Trying not to panic, Taylor communicates with Mission Control who assure him they are doing everything to rectify the problem. The link with Mission Control then goes out and Taylor next picks up radio transmissions warning him he is over Russian airspace and that he will be shot down as a hostile. He pleads for help but they are unable to do anything. Next, he picks up transmissions from a CIA agent at Houston warning him that he is over US soil and that he is suspected of being a Communist spy.
Capsule was a directorial debut for British director Andrew Martin who had previously worked as a camera operator and made several short films. The film played several festivals and was promoted with (entirely untrue) claims that it was based on a true story – while the UK did have a sppae program, it never launched a man into orbit (the first British citizen to do so was actually Helen Sharman who visited Mir in 1991).
I wasn’t sure what to make of Capsule before I began watching. It soon becomes evident that what we have is essentially a variant on the ‘conceptual containment thriller’ that we have seen in films such as Phone Booth (2002), Buried (2010), Frozen (2010), The Night Chronicles 1: Devil (2010) and ATM (2012), among others. The uniting theme in all of these is that they engage in a conceptual game of trying to confine their protagonist in as small a space as possible for the running time.
You could call Capsule a conceptual mix of Buried and Marooned (1969), the big-budget drama about three NASA astronauts trapped in orbit and the efforts to rescue them. While borrowing the astronaut trapped in orbit plot from Marooned, Andrew Martin has also taken the same approach that Buried and Phone Booth do in isolating the central character in a small space for the duration of the show.
Almost the entire film takes place with Edmund Kingsley sitting inside the capsule, although we do get a handful of exterior shots of the capsule in orbit and the film expands out to show some Earth-based scenes at the end. Like Buried, there is only one character on screen right until the concluding scenes and, with the exception of the end scenes, every other actor listed only appears as a voice on the radio.
Where Capsule starts to work is during its middle sections where Edmund Kingsley is trying to obtain aid in order to get back home but keeps encountering variously Russian and American voices on the radio threatening to shoot him down or believing he is a Communist spy and not knowing who he can believe. The film builds a fair tension out of this playoff. [PLOT SPOILERS] This comes to a good twist in the latter sections as we find he cannot trust everything he has been told. On the minus side, this dissipates to a weak conclusion once we return to the ground.