Directed by: Terence Davies.
Written by: Terence Davies based on the play by Terence Rattigan.
Starring: Rachel Weisz (Hester Collyer), Tom Hiddleston (Freddie Page), Simon Russell Beale (Sir William Collyer), Ann Mitchell (Mrs. Elton), Jolyon Coy (Philip Welch), Karl Johnson (Mr. Miller), Harry Hadden-Paton (Jackie Jackson), Sarah Kants (Liz Jackson), Barbara Jefford (Collyer's Mother).
British filmmaker Terrence Davies is trapped in the 1950s – both in his mind, and in his cinematic technique. And I do not mean that as a bad thing. His best known film – Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988) and to a lesser extent its sequel, The Long Day Closes (1992) were cinematic mood pieces, contrasting the happy music of the 1950s pop songs, with the dreary lives he saw around him growing up in Liverpool during that time. His last film, Of Time and the City (2008), was a documentary history of his hometown Liverpool, and how it has transformed since those childhood days. My personal favorite of his films, and his most recent dramatic effort, The House of Mirth (2000), was set in turn of the century New York, and how society destroys a woman whose crime was to fall in love. While British films were revolutionized, for better and worse, in the 1960s, Davies wants to keep the style of films he grew up with alive and well. And with The Deep Blue Sea, he mainly succeeds.
Based on the play by Terence Ratigan – whose best known work, The Browning Version, was about a classics teacher at a boarding school who is being forced out, and comes to realize that everyone, from his students, to his wife, to his best friend, essentially hate him. His lesser know The Deep Blue Sea can be viewed as a darker version of Noel Coward and David Leans Brief Encounter – but one where the lovers don’t stay with their spouses, but actually leave them. While, at least one of them does.
This is Hester (Rachel Weisz), who has a good, but boring marriage, to Sir William (Simon Russell Beale), a well-respected judge. But she meets a young war veteran named Freddie (Tom Hiddleston) and is willing to give up everything for him. While she is madly in love with Freddie, she knows that she is little more than an amusement for him – he loves her in a way, but that isn’t very much. He cannot love anything or anyone but himself. And while a torrid love affair with a married woman is one thing, it’s actually quite hard to carry on a real life with her. Going into the relationship, Hester, not Freddie, knows that it is doomed to failure, but she goes for it anyway. Why. Because for Hester, who always done what is expected of her, Freddie is an all-consuming passion, and even a short while with him is worth it for her.
As with all of Davies’ films, The Deep Blue Sea is meticulously crafted – perhaps too much so. The period details – from the upper class home of Sir William, to the low rent apartment of Freddie, to the local pub – the movie gets the look and feel of the 1950s just about perfectly. And like all of his films, The Deep Blue Sea is more of a slow burn than a fiery romance. Weisz is asked to carry the film, and she succeeds. Weisz is one of those actresses who can be either great – like in The Constant Gardener – or hopelessly affected – like The Shape of Things. Here, she is asked to do so much by doing so little. Her performance is one of grand emotions, that she has to keep simmering just beneath the surface, and she succeeds.
Davies film is ultimately about unrequited love – and how that even that is better than no love at all. For Hester, she knows Freddie doesn’t love her – but it’s enough for her that she loves him. It’s better than being with Sir William – who interestingly is not painted as a monster, but as a good and decent yet boring man.
What keeps The Deep Blue Sea from being a great movie – at least for me – is how devoid of passion it really does seem. It’s a little too passive for my liking – a little too slow. I almost think the movie would have worked better had it been about a half hour shorter – and the movie isn’t long at only 94 minutes – but there’s a moment about an hour into the movie that pretty much says all what the last half hour movie says in one silent moment. A movie needs to find its own length – sometimes that means a movie much longer that normal (like Olivier Assayas’ Carlos), but sometimes that means shorter. Davies film goes on just a little too long for its own good.