LITTLE ROCK Terence Davies’ The Deep Blue Sea is an indigo tone poem about romantic restlessness - some call it “lust” - that is at once devastating, infuriating and a little unsatisfying, despite the best efforts of the actors and some genuinely beautiful visuals. Though some pains are taken to open up Terence Rattigan’s repressive play for the screen, the movie’s roots are evident, as the characters talk and smoke and gaze out windows.
Set in post-World War II Britain, with its still-fresh ruins and blitzkrieg memories, it is all about Hester Collyer (Rachel Weisz), a woman who, as the film opens, attempts to commit suicide, dialing shillings down an old-fashioned gas meter and scratching out a note before stretching out on the floor to die.
She’s saved by a conscientious landlady, and so we come to learn how - 10 months earlier - she’d left her decent and compassionate older husband, the teddy bearish upper-class magistrate Sir William (the wonderfully nuanced Simon Russell Beale) for a thrill-seeking cad called Freddie (Tom Hiddleston) who misses his glory days as a RAF pilot battling the Luftwaffe.
Hester knows that Freddie doesn’t love her, but she just can’t quit him. So it comes as a relief when the affair is discovered during a visit to Sir William’s mother (Barbara Jefford). Sir William catches Hester telling someone on the telephone that she loves them. He deflates and gathers himself in the same instance; for her part Hester displays a steely dignity. There is just a flash of anger before resignation sets in.
She will leave, and take a rented room with her lover.
But Hester is not heartless, and her fondness for Sir William is apparent even as she leaves him. We understand that there is a friendship there, and there are not-so-subtle indications this great and centered man, this formidable peer is not equal to all of Hester’s demands. They love each other, but without much passion.
On the other hand, Freddie is loud and common, a braggart and a coward ready to bail out at the first sign of trouble. I don’t believe his bluster about his war hero past or his splendid golf game, and maybe Hester doesn’t either, but he nevertheless gives her something the old judge can’t. And she’s also drawn to his helplessness - Freddie is very much a boy, in need of mothering and prone to pouting.
He is also ruthlessly honest when it suits his purposes. He can’t love Hester, at least not in the way she loves him, and he wants it on the record that he never asked to be loved.
As a study of human nature, The Deep Blue Sea is unflinchingly accurate, yet as cinema it is something of a beautiful drag. It might be better suited for the stage, where its delicate subtleties might be more in line with audience expectations. There’s no real resolution here and while the performances are all superb - Weisz, usually good, has never been finer - the triangle feels familiar, if not hackneyed. Most of us know people like Hester, like Freddie, like Sir William.
Maybe most of us are - to one extent or another - people like them. And while that might be interesting enough for some moviegoers, a movie like The Deep Blue Sea is rare enough that a warning label feels appropriate.
The Deep Blue Sea 88
Rachel Weisz, Tom Hiddleston, Simon Russell Beale, Barbara Jefford
R, for language, nudity, sexuality
MovieStyle, Pages 33 on 04/27/2012
Print Headline: The Deep Blue Sea