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Close Quarters (1943)

Courtesy of Imperial War Museum

Main image of Close Quarters (1943)
35mm, 75 min, black & white
DirectorJack Lee
Production CompanyCrown Film Unit
SponsorMinistry of Information
ProducerIan Dalrymple
ScriptJack Lee
PhotographyJonah Jones

A British submarine on a North Sea patrol during World War II.

Show full synopsis

Close Quarters (d. Jack Lee, 1943) is in keeping with other reconstructed narrative-documentaries shot at the Crown Film Unit under producer Ian Dalrymple, combining production practices more closely associated with fiction films, and the comparatively good access to facilities and equipment enjoyed by Crown, with the sense of reality brought by real people recreating their daily lives for the screen.

Experienced GPO director Jack Lee's film displays the influence of Soviet cinema. Characters are likened to machinery parts as he picks out rhythms through editing and sound design, an effect enhanced by the metallic contrast of the black and white photography. A full-sized model of the submarine's interior was built at Pinewood Studios, while exteriors where shot on an active Royal Navy submarine.

The film's depiction of British efficiency makes it effective propaganda, and the war spirit is further re-enforced by tea drinking, calmness in the face of danger and a willingness to get the job done. Lee creates tension using some clever parallel editing as the vessel, under attack, submerges quickly, while sensitive photography reveals its whale-like beauty as it surfaces. Only when the submarine surfaces does he bring the camera above water, communicating the sailors claustrophobia as, during the narrative climax, the seamen wait helplessly for the attacking German gun boats to pass.

Likened at the time to We Dive At Dawn (d. Anthony Asquith, 1943) and In Which We Serve (d. Noël Coward/David Lean, 1942), Close Quarters has sometimes been dubbed 'In which we submerge'. But it stays true to its less melodramatic approach in depicting its understated heroes.

Tom Woodcock

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Video Clips
1. Opening sequence (4:09)
2. Nice piece of shooting (5:20)
3. Sitting it out (1:36)
Production stills
Monthly Film Bulletin review
49th Parallel (1941)
In Which We Serve (1942)
We Dive At Dawn (1943)
Dalrymple, Ian (1903-1989)
Lee, Jack (1913-2002)
Lloyd, Russell (1916-2008)
Crown Film Unit