It is December 1959, an era of fear of the Cold War between Russian and America, each fighting for political, economic and technological supremacy, but also the optimism of the remarkable expression of that race and its ultimate goal: space. And high above the Earth, Commander Guy Taylor orbits, test pilot of the Hermes project, concerned with his own immediate problems rather than the world below.
Losing oxygen fast, Taylor is slipping into hypoxia, his radio contact with mission control erratic, and without their assistance he will be unable to effect repairs to his life support system or get the craft back on course for re-entry. Without any practical advice to offer as they diagnose the problem, all mission control can do is tell Taylor to stay calm and breathe deeply, and as the oxygen levels drop lower he asks if he can speak to his wife, Lottie…
Set two years before the pioneering 1961 mission of Yuri Gagarin, the debut feature of writer/director Andrew Martin succinctly lays out the background through a series of archive clips and stills under the main titles before sliding into the rumours of a secret British mission into space which dissolves into a beautiful rendering of the apparently serene Hermes capsule in orbit.
Principally a one-hander focused on Stonehearst Asylum’s Edmund Kingsley as Commander Guy Taylor, David Wayman and The Hour’s Lisa Greenwood are Harry Lyndhurst and Charlotte Taylor, the disembodied voices from home trying to offer hope and reassurance across the temperamental squawk box, but as they fade another voice comes through, the belligerent intent unmistakable even though it speaks only Russian.
With the brass of Hugo de Chaire’s soundtrack recalling the sinister fanfares of Cliff Eidelman’s score for Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country and generating tension from very little in the opening scenes, the nature of the situation means the viewer comprehends how precarious Taylor’s position is even with only limited information, but as the film moves forward rather than developing other ideas it is instead variations of the same with little progression.
An enclosed set with only one performer requires a script which burns as hot as rocket fuel to last ninety minutes and while the intention can’t be faulted nor what has been achieved on the small budget, the film quickly becomes repetitive and nor can it shake the feel of an ambitious but creatively constrained BBC production of the seventies despite the beautiful opening shot.
With plucky English rose Lottie saddled with mawkish dialogue which wouldn’t feel out of place in a Mills and Boon novel, as the situation becomes more desperate it also becomes increasingly by the numbers with both the Russian and later American radio operators equally infuriating in their paranoid obstruction of rescue attempts, dragging out the minimal plot.
Suffused with a British need to compensate for a lost empire, Capsule may aim to offer the view of a lifetime but the reality of Gravity on a micro-budget comes down to Earth with a bump all the more disappointing for realising what might have been, but high hopes do not reach the stars.