Rutger Hauer - Captain Igor Britanov
Edward Herrmann - Admiral Poindexter
Rob Campbell - Sergei Preminin
Richard Graham - Lieutenant Belikov
Colm Feore - Pshenichny
Michael Attwell - Kurdin
Dominic Monagan - Sasha
Martin Sheen - Aurora Skipper
Max von Sydow - Admiral Chervanin
Peter Guinness - Vladimirov
Oliver Marlo - Doctor
Garry Cooper - Gennady
Plot: It opens days before President Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev are to meet at the crucial Reykjavik summit on disarmament. It is October 1986. Deep below the Atlantic, a Russian K219 submarine, the size of a city office block, cruises 500 miles east of Bermuda with orders to remain undetected by the West. Constantly, on war-alert and sailing blind, this submarine is carrying a lethal cargo of 16 nuclear missiles, each with 32-megaton warheads which are aimed at Washington, New York and Boston. The US hunter submarine “Aurora”, half the size of its Soviet counterpart, is trailing the K219 and is also reliant on sonar signals to avoid discovery. Guessing that he is being followed, Captain Britanov issues orders to carry out a 360 degree avoidance manoeuvre or “Crazy Ivan”. The 219’s turn causes violent turbulence and the Aurora loses its vital sonar signal. Suddenly, the two submarines are dangerously close. The Aurora skipper realises that the Russians are directly below them. Within a split second the submarines have collided and narrowly avoided a second hit. The K219 has sustained damage. Water is streaming through a tiny creak in the missile hatch cover, producing deadly fumes and brown flames. A giant gas explosion rocks the submarine and forces the crushed missile out of its casing into the sea. The blast knocks the Aurora sideways and registers on American tracking equipment in Virginia. Then Britanov desperately aware that his vessel is sinking does the unthinkable and dives to build up speed and extinguish the fire and then surfaces in western waters damaged and burning. The American crew are shocked when they realize what is happening. They know that Russian submarines are forbidden to surface and the Aurora’s skipper becomes convinced that the Soviets are about to attack. The missile doors open and the Americans prepare to attack the beleaguered vessel. Minutes go by. Some of the Aurora crew manage to persuade their captain that the Russians are only attempting to extinguish the fire.
News of the incident is relayed to the Pentagon and the Kremlin. The threat of nuclear war grows. The Aurora, together with all-American eastern military bases, are placed on DEFCON 2 alert – the highest alert short of outright war.
An emergency meeting is hurriedly carried out in Moscow. Admiral Chernavin is furious that Britanov has not only disobeyed orders and blown his cover, but has also chosen to sail into deeper water away from the Soviet safe haven of Cuba. The Soviet committee orders trawlers to go to the stricken submarine’s aid and drop oxygen to the crew. Meanwhile, in Washington, Chernavin’s American counterpart, John Poindexter, briefs senior naval officers about the imminent dangers facing America. For 14 hours, Britanov and his crew desperately fight the fires on board their vessel. The world’s two largest military powers are helpless bystanders. Despite all the odds, Britanov’s crew manages to extinguish the fires, but the heat has severed the electrical cables to the safety systems and the controls to the reactors are no longer responding. The reactor alarm sounds and Britanov’s worst fears are realized. In Compartment 7, at the submarine’s core, a chain fission reaction begins in the nuclear reactors which will lead inexorably to the release of the missiles. The consequential nuclear fall-out has the potential to make Chernobyl look like an environmental blip. The President is warned of the potential nuclear disaster. The only way to halt melt-down is to lower the reactor rods by hand. Britanov has no alternative but to send his youngest men, Lieutenant Belikov and a 20-year old conscript, Sergei Preminin into the nuclear chamber to attempt the hazardous task…
Notes: This is based on a story that really happened but that has always been denied at high Government’s levels.
Ruger's Notes: “Britanov is definitely the kind of man I would like to have served under. He’s a fine captain – a stalwart, a man who makes no distinction between himself and his crew. Submarines are his life. At the end he would have died in his boat had it not been for his wife and child”. (1997 Production Notes).
“It's a kind of ‘a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do’ story. It sounds so tacky, but from the moment it takes you, it’s a hell of a ride. We’ve succeeded in creating a story about passion in a submarine. Believe it or not. What I liked about Hostile Waters when I first read it was that there was not a hair of nonsense in it. Everything is exact. It has mathematical structure, like a beehive. Every line has a function. The script is like an enormous chess-game, with no bullshit.
It's only human to get nervous and exicted in that situation because there's a lot at stake. But you can’t lead a bunch of guys when you’re panicking. Britanov is an incredibly cool guy. Part of leadership is knowing that you have to keep a couple of blocks of ice in your glass. My take on the man is that when you have to live in such a small space for such a long time, you’d better have space in your mind for other things. He has a life outside the submarine”. (“The Eye”, June 1997).