Guy is an experienced British fighter pilot who is in command of Britain's first manned mission to space. He has trained for this for three years at the height of the Cold War and now he is alone in space with a malfunctioning capsule. He has limited contact with the UK, some unusual communication with the US and some unorthodox communication with Tyuratam deep in Soviet Russia. Who will help him? Will he make the right choice?
Andrew Martin (screenplay)
Felix Forrest (story)
Capsule is a British import – making its US debut at this year’s Filmquest. It’s a very claustrophobic and contained outer space psychological thriller, not sci-fi per se, but aside from a few moments of the film’s running time, its drama takes place entirely inside the tiny spacecraft — making its way around the Earth’s orbit.
It’s 1959 — smack-dab in the middle of the Cold War — and the world’s great nations are in a race to be the first super-power to conquer space and space travel. The first manned British capsule (hence the name) has on board former fighter pilot and Commander in the Royal Air Force; Guy Taylor (Edmund Kingsley). There are some technical problems, and Taylor runs the gamut of emotions – in and out of consciousness, losing contact with his ground crew and eventually making contact – somehow on the same frequency as his co-horts in Britian – with Russian and American agencies. There is suspicion and Guy must not only assuage the fears of both countries that he is a dangerous spy, but also convince them to assist his tricky and time-sensitive re-entry to Earth’s atmosphere – before Guy’s precious air and fuel run out.
Capsule was up for several awards at this year’s Filmquest; including a secret nomination for Best Picture which was announced the evening of the awards ceremony, Best Foreign Film (a complete surprise category announced the same evening), Best Feature Screenplay, Best Actor in a Feature for Edmund Kingsley (he won), and Best Supporting Actress in a Feature for Lisa Greenwood.
Frankly, I believe there should have also been a nomination for Best Score, as the work by Hugo De Chaire is astonishingly rich and emotionally resonant.
As mentioned above, the character of Taylor has to navigate plenty of emotions – and actor Kingsley (I gave him a favorable review in this year’s The Carrier) carries the film with ease. At once collected (that old British catchphrase, “Keep calm and carry on” must be tattooed on the character’s eyelids), then afraid, then fearless, relieved and finally resigned, Kingsley is the glue to the film. The script is not particularly strong, nor does the constant interjection of Taylor’s remembrances and conversation with his wife (I didn’t care for the performance of Lisa Greenwood as Taylor’s wife, Charlotte) ever elicit enough emotion or sympathy. What’s striking about the film, is that Kingsley is able to overcome the screenplay’s shortcomings and repetitiveness. And although the connection to his wife never feels authentic enough – or bold enough for Taylor to fight for his life and return to Earth by any means – Kingsley is still able to sell it. Among his best moments are his more fearful ones – as the oxygen depletes, as the capsule goes into an uncontrollable spin, or when Taylor becomes enraged, confused and angry over his lack of assistance from the ground.
I’m having a hard time managing some mixed thoughts on the film. On the one hand, it’s a remarkable feat that the filmmakers were able to keep our attention on one man in one location (the interior of the capsule itself) for the majority of the film’s running time; and a testament to the work of lead actor Kingsley – but at the same time, this lack of movement from within the capsule was mirrored by a lack of movement in the story itself. While I stayed with the journey and terrifying situation which Commander Taylor found himself in, I longed for something else to happen. It never did – until the film’s climax and denouement. There seems to be too much repetition throughout, as Taylor tackles similar issues of peril, and the fact that things stay stagnant at times, results in pacing issues and frankly, moments of boredom. There’s a build to the film’s climax, but it’s just not powerful enough to completely work.
As for that aforementioned payoff – it’s intriguing and there are hints as to these final revelations all throughout the film. As producer Forrest explained prior to the screening, “several The Sixth Sense-style clues” are present.
There’s also a marked change in the way the film is shot once the epilogue begins. Also-cinematographer Forrest (and behind the story for the film) has extensive training in the use of Steadicam, and that was evident during the film’s final 10 minutes. From close quarters (Forrest said that most of the shooting in the capsule was so intimate, if he wanted to, he could reach out and touch Kingsley as they shot each scene) to sweeping and grand camera movement back on the Earth’s surface (don’t worry, that’s not a spoiler). Apparently, these final moments in the film are done in one take – and only had to be shot 5 times to get it down. Impressive.
I loved the internal set design of the capsule and never questioned the authenticity (with the exception of the artificial gravity – would that have been present at this stage of the space game? It isn’t now). That fantastical component aside, all of the interior and exterior camera and design work (including that Spielberg-esque passing through the capsule window moment) is nicely executed.
While there are some script and pacing problems, Capsule is a visually stimulating effort and the film’s crowning component (and soul) is Edmund Kingsley’s masterful and thoughtful performance. Because of these positives, the film is worth checking out.
Capsule is currently flying across the worldwide landscape of film festivals – making a name for itself and racking up awards – and there are some sequels already in the planning stages. How is that possible? Watch the film, decipher the clues (some nice moments of dialogue throughout will help you along) and see for yourself.