Based on a 1952 play by British dramatist Terence Rattigan, Terence Davies’ film version of The Deep Blue Sea starts with the attempted suicide of Hester Collyer (Rachel Weisz) in an appropriately faded boarding house in post-war London. Flashbacks set the scene for desperation: a sensible marriage to an older, dignified High Court Judge (Simon Russell Beale) jettisoned for an affair with a young, semi-alcoholic fighter pilot (a ‘British bulldog’ Tom Hiddleston) struggling to move beyond the memory of wartime glories. Greek tragedy aimed for emotional cleansing (catharsis), and during the film’s one-day trajectory, the three main characters succeed in re-arranging their lives, achieving a bleak resolve to carry on.
Director Terence Davies revisits earlier successes: the brilliantly overwrought heroine in House of Mirth is matched here by Weisz’ performance as a troubled creature caught between the ‘guarded enthusiasm’ of her class and the passion of her nature. In terms of his habitually exquisite settings, Davies’ film combines, as few such adaptations do, the intensity and potential artificiality of emotionally tight spaces and situations created for the stage with the flow and visual intimacy of film.
At times, the movie feels overly indebted to Neil Jordan’s The End of the Affair but ultimately works better in its telling of a timeless story that also succeeds as a commentary on individuals at the mercy of social constraints.
The Deep Blue Sea | Directed by Terence Davies (USA, UK 2011) with Rachel Weisz, Tom Hiddleston, Simon Russell Beale. Starts September 27