Issue 12  •  Spring 2013

The Deep Blue Sea: Terence Davies

Written by Angelica Bastién
DeepBlue.jpgThe Deep Blue Sea explores the perverse agony and ecstasy of unrequited love. While the languid pace and narrative structure doesn’t always work, the film is triumphant in regards to the elegant, heart wrenching lead performance of Rachel Weisz as Hester Collyer.

DeepBlue.jpgThe Deep Blue Sea explores the perverse agony and ecstasy of unrequited love. While the languid pace and narrative structure doesn’t always work, the film is triumphant in regards to the elegant, heart wrenching lead performance of Rachel Weisz as Hester Collyer.

Based on the 1952 play by Terence Rattigan, The Deep Blue Sea tells the story of the adulterous Hester who has left her much older, well-off husband Sir William (Simon Russell Beale). She’s left William for the younger, brash, and charismatic Freddie (Tom Hiddleston). The relationship is stitched together with their fiery physical chemistry and Hester’s overwhelming desire to be loved in a particular manner. But in this new affair Hester has put more of herself into it than Freddie. Taking place in London in the early 1950s, the city is still marred by rubble from the Blitz of the previous decade. The emotional landscape of these three characters reflects the stark, naked aspects of the city waiting to be fixed, remade into something workable.

The film opens with Hester’s failed suicide attempt by gassing herself in the flat she shares with Freddie after he has forgotten her birthday. The opening of the film is somewhat experimental in its melding of visuals and moving soundtrack with lush passages by Samuel Barber’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra. As the camera swirls overhead in a languid fashion, the audience is privy to the lovemaking of Hester and Freddie in one of the films many flashbacks. It isn’t quite clear at first until the tangle of limbs and breathing comes into focus.

What unfurls after the suicide attempt is a story that tracks the pitfalls of desire. The film seeks not to answer questions about lust, love, and need but to delve into these themes with lyrical abandon. Director/Writer Terence Davies strips the story down to its essence, throwing out much of the dialogue and altering the structure of the original play. The film flows through time at the behest of Hester’s emotions rather than a clear narrative structure. By trading a more traditional narrative for one intrinsically linked to Hester’s shifting emotional state, the film succeeds at this exploration. The best special effect in the film is the landscape of Weisz’s face shifting from anguish to soft desire, creating a more moving play of imagery than any computer graphics could render. The shifts in time purposeful in tracking who this tortured woman is.

Hester’s relationship with William is interesting in its kindness. William isn’t cold, rather, he is dominated by his mother in a way that alienates Hester. There is a telling sequence that focuses on William and Hester visiting his mother played with a keen eyed chilliness by Barbara Jefford. Over dinner she pointedly asks Hester about her interests in sports until the real heart of this quizzical conversation is revealed.

“Beware of passion, Hester” she says. “It always leads to something ugly.”

Hester holds firm but respectful in her opposition. “What would you replace it with?” she asks.

“A guarded enthusiasm” William’s mother replies. “It’s safer.”

As her relationship with Freddie disintegrates William returns to her side. He can’t give her the sweaty satisfaction that Freddie has, but something harder to pin down or lose: compassion. Beale, like Weisz, paints his performance in shades of grey. He creates a character composed of quiet longing and old-school manners. A cutting sense of anger flairs when Hester’s amorous affair is revealed but even then it is rooted in a sense of wounded loyalty within William more than just fury.

Tom Hiddleston lends a good performance as Freddie, imbuing the lovely charmer with sharp fury. But he goes so quick to anger at Hester with such little build-up it seems a bit out of tune with the rest of the film that opts for a more elegant nature in how it explores the darker sides of desire. But, as the film continues he finds his footing creating a memorable physical bravado.

At times, the film feels a bit cloying and staged in a way that suggests roots in theater. But then the film will open up like in the marvelous tracking shot showing Hester and William in the London Underground during a German raid during World War II.

The war presses on the minds of the characters particularly Freddie whose youthful exuberance has a dangerous edge without the outlet of war. He looks upon his time in World War II as the height of his existence. Hester becomes a needy emblem of the present that he refuses to face.

It becomes quite apparent that Hester suffers from depression. Her need for love is so deep and consuming that without it she is as broken as the naked buildings that punctuate the London skyline outside her window. In this way the film is reminiscent of the 1940s melodramas like A Letter from an Unknown Woman and Leave Her to Heaven , which in distinct ways track the burdens of all-consuming love from the perspective of the female leads.

Ultimately this is a showcase for Rachel Weisz, her soft, English rose beauty strikes an interesting contrast with the high-wire, dark desire of Hester. Her impressionistic performance thoroughly compliments the film’s poetic nature, which trades a clean ending for something more akin to life in which the burning questions are never quite answered but there is a tinge of hope on the horizon.

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