In an otherwise glum year for the cruise industry, the recent HBO Max Film, "Let Them All Talk," is a dash of holiday cheer for cruise fans.
The Steven Soderbergh film debuted Dec. 10 with a star-studded cast led by Meryl Streep, Dianne Wiest and Candice Bergen and rounded out by Lucas Hedges and Gemma Chan. But the other star is Cunard Line's Queen Mary 2, where most of the film is set, and quite a few reviewers called out the Queen for her standout performance.
"While the movie ostensibly stars a quintet of formidable actors, the real star of the movie is the ship itself," said the New Yorker magazine's review of the film.
Movie-and-entertainment site Vulture said that it "appears that, in August of 2019, Steven Soderbergh used a movie as an excuse to cross the Atlantic on the Queen Mary 2 with its stars and, honestly, we must respect the man's hustle. Who among us wouldn't do this, given half the chance? The resulting film, Let Them All Talk, seems built around that idea: It's basically a hangout picture, a luxurious, two-hour ocean-crossing with these actors."
Most of the film was shot during a transatlantic crossing from New York to Southampton, giving hundreds of actual passengers the opportunity to serve as extras in the film.
Simon Palethorpe, president of Cunard, was onboard during the filming. It is not lost on him that a film starring a cruise ship came out when the majority of cruise ships are unable to sail.
"Everybody's delighted to have a film like this out there," he said. "It shows off the industry as well as the ship. It's a nice way to remind people of the joys of being at sea. The idea of being on a ship and catching up with old friends; I think people and our loyal guests especially will enjoy that enormously."
Palethorpe said that when Soderbergh approached Cunard about filming on the QM2 and said 80% of the film would be set onboard, he reviewed the storyline and thought it would be flattering to the ship and the industry.
"We thought it could be fun, interesting for guests, and it would show the ship off at its best, which I think it does," he said.
One of the more interesting things about the film is that much of it was unscripted. Palethorpe said watching the actors improvise as much as they did "was astonishing to see."
I couldn't help but wonder if one of the exchanges near the end was improvised. It is a theme cruisers will know well: the crew's insistence that the ship not "a boat" and the QM2's crossing is not "a cruise."
"It came from us having a bit of fun with the producers and some of the cast when they'd on occasion say 'boat' and they'd talk about a voyage or a cruise and we'd say, 'it's a crossing.' They thought it was quite fun and something to build in the narrative," Palethorpe explained. "That's how that all came about. It was a bit of friendly banter which turned into an interesting little piece of script. They were having a bit of fun with us as well by putting it in."
One the first day of the crossing, Palethorpe said that about 50 passengers signed up to be extras. By the end of the week it grew to 1,000.
"It created a nice buzz around the ship," he said. "The actors we all very engaging and were happy to engage with guests from time to time. It was a really nice atmosphere."
So as not to interrupt the flow of the cruise, er, crossing, Palethorpe said scenes were generally filmed in areas not in heavy use. For example, the dinners in the Queens Grill were actually shot between lunch and dinner when the restaurant is closed, so as to not disrupt the passengers' enjoyment of the ship. However, he added, "most guests were terribly intrigued with what was going on."
The film also offers a look at several cabin categories, and viewers will get a rare glimpse into a massive Queens Grill duplex where Streep's character stays. Some of the public areas that feature frequently (and QM2 fans will recognize) are the Commodore Club, the nautically-themed bar above the bridge; the Queens Grill and dining room; the Royal Court Theatre; and the 9,000 volume library.
"Let them All Talk" actresses Meryl Streep, Dianne Wiest and Candice Bergen in the Queen Grill restaurant. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Warner Media
"It's really a poignant reminder of the joys of cruising and what makes a voyage so special," Palethorpe said. "And a reminder of how wonderful days at sea can be. The QM2 does days at sea better than any other ship. At a time when everyone is very stressed and life feels very uncertain, the film is calm and never rushed."