Up periscope! Director Kevin Macdonald on his underwater heist film ‘Black Sea’


Image Credit: Giles Keyte

There are few things that inspire greed more readily than goldand there’s an abundance of both in the London-shot Black Sea (out Jan. 23), a new submarine thriller from filmmaker Kevin Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland). “I think we’re all greedy,” says the director. “Who do you know who says, ‘I have enough! I don’t need any more!’? It’s part of human nature.”


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In the film, Jude Law plays a recently unemployed submarine captain who recruits a half-U.K., half-Russian crew to search for a long-lost cache of bullion at the bottom of the titular body of water. “I was fascinated by making a submarine movie, inspired by the Kursk disaster,” says Macdonald, referring to the 2000 sinking of a Russian submarine during naval exercises, which resulted in the death of its crew. “This idea of being trapped down at the bottom of the sea seemed so terrifying. I was very interested in making a sub film which wasn’t a military film. You think, Well, why are they there, then, if they’re not in the military? Oh, well, they must be looking for treasure.”

Macdonald and screenwriter Dennis Kelly found further inspiration from John Huston’s greed-classic The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and William Friedkin’s 1977 film Sorcerer (a remake of Henri-Georges Clouzet’s The Wages of Fear) in which a quartet of men risk their lives driving trucks of nitroglycerin through the South American jungle. Macdonald even screened the latter for his cast, which also includes Scoot McNairy and Kill List actor Michael Smiley. “I showed it to all the actors and said, ‘This is who you are—you’re desperate men who are driven by your desperation to go on a mission which you shouldn’t go on.”

Macdonald shot the film in an actual Black Widow submarine located on Britain’s Medway River and in a massive water tank at the famed Pinewood studios. “We had shredded broccoli in the water, which is this time-honored way of creating the look of algae and seaweed floating around,” says he director. “You shred up the heads of broccoli and put it in. Broccoli soup for lunch!”

While prepping the film, Macdonald says he was himself tempted by cash when the director was approached to make the movie in America. “We had people who were interested in doing that because it was a great story,” says Macdonald. “Now, maybe, that movie would have made a lot more money. But it wouldn’t have been the movie we were all excited about. We stuck to our guns. We didn’t get richbut we overcame our greed.”

You can see the trailer for Black Sea below.