The Deep Blue Sea | Film review
Terence Davies turns Terence Rattigan’s play into gloriously classical filmmaking.
The story of a British housewife (Rachel Weisz) who ruins her passionless marriage to a well-meaning but oblivious magistrate (Simon Russell Beale) by having an affair with a foppish RAF officer (Tom Hiddleston), The Deep Blue Sea is not going to wow anyone as innovative drama. What’s special about Terence Davies’s adaptation of Terence Rattigan’s 1952 play has everything to do with form: This is consummate classical filmmaking, where a glance or cigarette puff cuts as deeply as any line of dialogue. The material’s origin was on the stage, but Davies has thoroughly reconceived it for the screen, unfolding the story in a series of haunting, gorgeously photographed conversations and tableaux. (See it in lush 35mm—while you still can.)
The film has been heralded as Davies’s Brief Encounter, but the style is more sensual and the subject matter more trenchant. Weisz’s self-destructive Hester persists in loving Hiddleston’s Freddie despite his standoffishness (and her cuckolded husband’s moves toward making amends). The need to reconcile physical passion, social mores and Catholic guilt dovetails well with the themes of Davies’s autobiographical classics, Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988) and The Long Day Closes (1992), even if he was a child when these events (set “around 1950”) take place. Scored to the mournful strains of Samuel Barber’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, The Deep Blue Sea is—true to its title—an immersive experience. Ensuring that Rattigan’s words never sound arch, Weisz stands out in a role that suggests a more damaged version of Joan Fontaine in Letter from an Unknown Woman.