Jude Law and Director Kevin Macdonald on “Black Sea” | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Kevin Macdonald (far left) with Jude Law (right) on the set of "Black Sea"

Jude Law and Director Kevin Macdonald on “Black Sea”

Submarine-set Thriller Opens In Select Cities on January 23, 2015

Jan 23, 2015 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Scottish filmmaker Kevin Macdonald is best known for making two types of films: intense character portraits (The Last King of Scotland) and critically-acclaimed documentaries (One Day in September, Touching the Void.) That makes his latest feature, Black Sea—an old-fashioned thriller about men trapped in a sunken submarine—that much more of a surprise.

“I had this idea to do a submarine movie—about a submarine stuck at the bottom of the sea,” says Macdonald. “I thought about what they were there for; that they were after some sort of treasure. I had that kind of idea in my head, and the reference of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, which was an influence on the script.”

Macdonald met with several writers about the project, but none connected with the idea in a way that he was looking for. But then Charles Steel, one of the film’s producers, suggested playwright Dennis Kelly. The writer had never penned a feature screenplay before but was a highly respected name in theater circles, having just won a Tony Award for scripting the smash hit Matilda: The Musical.

“[Charles] had met him, and said I should read some of his plays, which I did,” Macdonald explains. “One of them is set in an old, second World War bunker. The idea of someone who could write a play set in a single location, and was interested in—and could make interesting—characters trapped together in some way; that chimed with me.”

As Macdonald and Kelly collaborated on nine drafts of the screenplay, the first part of the film eventually took the shape of a classic heist movie. Black Sea centers on a bitter submariner named Robinson; a man who’s spent most of his adult life underwater, to the point where he’s alienated his ex-wife and child. When he’s canned by the salvage company that employed him for much of his career, he becomes a man with nothing left to lose. Macdonald cast Jude Law as his hard-headed lead.

“We thought we wanted [Robinson] to come from somewhere coastal,” explains Jude Law, who was thrilled to find the director and screenwriter open to collaboration. “Aberdeen is this coastal town—they actually call it Granite City—and was in the ‘70s for a huge dock that was shut down by the conservative government. I had this idea that his father was one of those guys; that his father was someone who lost his job, and lost his pride and dignity. And it’s happening to him.”

After hearing word of a German U-boat stuffed with Nazi gold lying in the deep waters of the Black Sea, Robinson is given a new reason to live. With backing from a mysterious financier, he commissions a Cold War-era Russian submarine and recruits a crew of similarly desperate men to join his dangerous hunt for lost treasure. The men—half of them British, half of them Russian—distrust each other; a situation that isn’t helped by the language barrier between them.

“There’s a natural, almost primal, sort of division,” Law explains. “And then this sense [that] only together can we survive this. There are great metaphors in there.”

“The language divides them because they can’t understand each other,” Macdonald goes on. “But at a certain stage they’re all stuck together—they’ve got to decide: are we going to work together and get out of here, or are we going to fight it out and all die? That’s a wonderful metaphor.”

A few years before filming, the director caught word of a private collector who owns a Soviet submarine, which he kept sitting in a river in the small English town of Rochester. Macdonald tracked the man down, and was invited to tour the decommissioned vessel. Built in 1967 and known by the name of The Black Widow, the Foxtrot class submarine is one of only five of its kind remaining in existence. Macdonald immediately dreamed of shooting all of Black Sea aboard The Black Widow, but the prospect proved too impractical for the film’s producers. Instead, a compromise was struck: while the bulk of shooting would be done on sets built in a studio, the cast and crew would spend two weeks filming aboard the real submarine. While only small scenes were filmed on The Black Widow, the time they spent on the vessel brought an extra level of authenticity to the production.

“You kind of have to let go of personal space,” Law recounts on the experience. “But as an actor, in a piece like this, it was incredibly helpful. It added a wonderful element, and sometimes solved certain issues to help us construct the drama of a scene.”

“You have so many choices, normally,” says Macdonald, looking back on how it affected his direction. “In this, the choices are made for you, because you can’t really move. The actors can’t move. The camera can’t move too much. You kind of just go to wherever feels like the right place to do it, and you’ve got to do it there—that’s it. A lot is dictated in the filmmaking by the space.”

The film’s anxiety-inducing diving scene—which Macdonald describes as the film’s “big action set piece”—was shot in tanks built in a British studio. While Jude Law was able to avoid putting on a diving suit for this film (actor Ben Mendolsohn was cast as the vessel’s lead diver), he does have scuba training; however, his dives were off the coast of Africa, among sharks and colorful reefs, rather than in dark, frigid Black Sea waters.

“That’s slightly different than the world of Black Sea,” Macdonald says in regards to his lead actor’s previous diving experience. “When you’re underwater in Black Sea, it’s that sort of murky, dank world—certainly not beautiful colors—where you can’t see very far. That sense of the terrifying unknown was what we were going for.”


Black Sea is now playing in select cities. For more information about the film, check out its website.

To read our review of the film, click here.


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April 9th 2015

Can’t wait to see this movie… Haurry up to come in Phuket :-)