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Deep water: Troy Kennedy Martin's real-life submarine drama Hostile Waters

Sub plot


latest thriller treads the murky waters of a Cold War submarine disaster that the Pentagon denies ever happened. Words: Eddie Gibb

It may be good to talk, but when you are the captain of a US nuclear submarine observing strict radio silence somewhere of eastern seaboard. that is not an option. Communication. or the lack of it, is the key to understanding the potentially catastrophic sequence of events that took place when the Cold War was showing its first signs of thawing out eleven years back. and that have now been dramatised in the BBC] film Hostile Waters.

Writer Troy Kennedy Martin. whose last British television credit was the acclaimed espionage thriller. Edge of Darkness. has once again captured the paranoia and suspicion that builds up when secrecy becomes more important than truth. The pressure cooker atmosphere of submarine life is captured in the film. and intensifies the sense of impending crisis in the wake of an incident which the Pentagon still officially denies ever happened.

In October 1986. USS Aurora was patrolling the icy waters of the Atlantic when it spotted a Soviet sub. or ‘boomer’. on its sonar. What followed was a potentially lethal game of cat and mouse. The obvious danger involved in two submarines undertaking this kind of elaborate underwater dance, was an agenda item at a superpower summit in Reykjavik a few days later. Then just about the worst thing that could happen. did. In an avoidance tactic known as a ‘crazy lvan’. the Russian sub executed a tight 360° turn and clipped the Aurora.

The result was rather more serious than your

86 TIIELIST 25 Jul—7 Aug 1997

Troy Kennedy Martin

'If the Americans had sunk the submarine, which was definitely on the cards, Reykjavik wouldn’t have happened.’

average naval fender-bender. The Soviet sub suffered serious damage to its reactor core. and a gas explosion threatened to blow up the whole ship. triggering the launch of nuclear warheads aimed at several major American cities. Captain lgor Britanov. played by Rutger Hauer. tried to put the onboard fire out by surfacing in an unprecedented move. which was interpreted by the Americans as an act of aggression.

‘For one hour they really were terrified about what was wrong with that submarine a boomer on the surface for the first time in twenty years with one of the missile doors open.‘ says Kennedy Martin. ‘So they tend to go to worst case scenarios was there a mutiny on board? Were missiles going to be launched? and there was no word from Gorbachev. Everyone was theorising. The Americans didn‘t know what the Russians were up to. the Russians didn't know what Britanov was up to neither really knew what was going on in the American submarine which was observing a radio silence so there was this conjecture like a game ofchess.‘

Rather than risk scuppering the Reykjavik summit. both naval high commands played a waiting game as Britanov wrestled with his crippled craft to prevent a meltdown of its reactor core. Hostile Waters also highlights the suspicion of the US government among senior naval officers. who believed Ronald Reagan was about to start dismantling the country‘s nuclear capability. The idea of the (‘old Wat" suiting vested interests on both sides is clearly established.

‘It was a small incident but it was surrounded by Reykjavik and the end of the Cold War. so it's that nice thing in drama where you start with something small but it has global proportions.‘ says Kennedy Martin. ‘If the Americans had sunk the submarine. which was definitely on the cards. Reykjavik wouldn’t have happened and I don‘t know how long the Cold War might have been prolonged.‘

If only someone had picked up a phone.

Hostile Waters is on BBC1, Sat 26 Jul.

Omnibus: East of EastEnders BBC 1, Sun 27 Jul, 10.45pm.

'The text is so stupid, unbelievably stupid.’ Surprise, surprise, we’re talking British soaps. But rather than another doomed EIdorado-style offering, the Brits have now been drafted in to lend a hand in creating a new show for the inhabitants of Kazakstan and what's more, it's making big bucks. Indeed, Crossroads (don’t fret, Meg Mortimer is nowhere in sight), launched eighteen months ago, is single-handedly keeping the tumble-down Kazak Film Studios open.

Omnibus goes behind the scenes to eavesdrop on auditions and storyline meetings as scriptwriters from EastEnders and other UK soaps battle it out for creative control with their counterparts in the former Soviet republic. What soon becomes clear is the Kazak's strong sense of morality and reality: ingredients two short-lived Kazak scriptwriters soon learn don't figure in the formula.

With funding from Britain's Overseas Development Agency's technical aid programme, EastEnders' Tony Jordan and co‘s propaganda-laden brief, is to preach the principles of privatisation and free enterprise. This is where the plot gets murky. Small-towners the Kazaks may be, but dumb hicks they ain't. Making a speech any Marxist would be proud of, one disgruntled Kazakstan crew member exclaims: ’ln itself, the phenomenon of soap opera is absolutely political. It has specific functions to stultify the population. To bring it to a specific level, a unified, smooth level which is then very easy to deal with and direct.’

The Kazak writer may have hit the nail on the head with her opening critique, but it's viewers that count, and with an impressive 26% audience share - not to mention an expanding pay-cheque Layla Akinjanava soon comes round to Western ways of thinking, selling out to become chief scriptwriter, after the Brits hand over the reins.

'What’s happening now is like the

5 first flight into space. I feel like Yuri

Gagarin’, she enthuses, about the

a potentially revolutionary scope of the show. In true soap fashion it

would appear all those bubbles have gone straight to her head. (Claire Prentice)