Friday, November 25, 2011

Review - The Deep Blue Sea

"Beware of passion, Hester. It always leads to something ugly." Those words of warning ultimately prove prophetic for Hester Collyer (Rachel Weisz) in The Deep Blue Sea, but Hester doesn't heed that advice. She is a woman consumed by a passion that has transformed her and has convinced her to disrupt the stable, comfortable life mapped out for her in order to taste something more exciting. Hester has walked away from her wealthy and respected husband (Simon Russell Beale) for a younger man, former RAF pilot Freddie (Tom Hiddleston), whose dashing, devil-may-care attitude has a rejuvenating effect on woman tired of spending quiet nights in front of the fire with a husband who loves her, but not in the way she needs to be loved. She has pursued her desire for physical, erotic satisfaction, but when we meet Hester at the start of the film, she is contemplating suicide in Freddie's small flat. Her mother-in-law's pointed words have come true, and her passion has led to something very ugly.

The Deep Blue Sea is an adaptation of the play by Terence Rattigan and the most notable aspect of its production is that it marks Terence Davies' return to narrative cinema more than a decade after his superb take on Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth. It's wonderful to have Davies back and within minutes of The Deep Blue Sea beginning we feel as if we are in safe hands with a man who is in his element in this milieu. The film takes place in the early 1950's, an era that Davies recreates in a detailed, richly atmospheric fashion. The film feels lived-in, with the drama largely taking place in a shabby bedsit or smoky London boozers, where everyone partakes in one of Davies' customary singalong scenes. As well as evoking a particular time and place, the film also gives Davies the opportunity to pay homage to the cinema of that bygone era, with the early films of David Lean, the beautiful style of Max Ophüls and the melodrama of Douglas Sirk all being notable influences on his approach here.

In fact, the opening of the film is pure melodrama, as Davies condenses the backstory and Hester's suicide attempt into an intense montage accompanied by Barber's Violin Concerto. It's a bold move that creates a heightened sense of emotion immediately, but after this prelude, the film settles into something rather more traditional and reserved. It's a resolutely old-fashioned film, and one that easily leaves itself open to accusations of being little more than a filmed stage play, but to do that is to ignore Davies' extraordinarily elegant and deliberate use of the camera. His direction creates a sense of intimacy with these characters and allows us to experience their emotional tumult first hand as they each deal with the thorny dilemmas Hester's infidelity has created for them. I was particularly moved by Simon Russell Beale's performance as Sir William Collyer, a man deeply in love with his wife and incapable of comprehending her course of action or doing anything to win her back.

The film is a real showcase for Weisz, however. As in The House of Mirth, Davies has drawn from an actress a subtle, complex, emotionally charged performance that instantly eclipses all of her previous work. Hester is an intelligent woman torn between her head – which tells her that a life with Sir William is the only sensible option – and her heart, and Weisz's portrayal of her inner conflict is incredibly astute. Davies shoots her like a 40's movie star and gives her the space she needs to bring Hester to vivid, multi-dimensional life, ensuring it's fascinating and affecting to watch as she falls apart under the duress of this self-destructive relationship. The Deep Blue Sea is a film about loving someone intensely and also realising when the time has come to let that person go, and in Davies' hands it handles these themes with honesty and perception.

What the film perhaps lacks is the powerful and cathartic emotional climax that audiences will crave, instead leaving us with a quiet sense of sadness and resolve that is embodied in Weisz's performance. That is a minor gripe, however, because The Deep Blue Sea is a gorgeously crafted film that is clearly the work of a great filmmaker in tune with the very essence of his material. Despite the success of Davies' documentary Of Time and the City, this feels like the director's real return to filmmaking, allowing him to once again display his uncanny visual sense, deep empathy with actors, piercing emotional insight and – above all – his deep and abiding love for cinema, which he brings to bear on every frame of this marvellous film.

Read my interview with Terence Davies here.