sat 20/07/2024

The Deep Blue Sea | reviews, news & interviews

The Deep Blue Sea

The Deep Blue Sea

A tin-full of polish and this adaptation from the great Terence Davies still fails to shine

Smoke and mirrors can't disguise the troubles of 'The Deep Blue Sea'

The Deep Blue Sea, the latest from justly esteemed British director Terence Davies, shares its name with a Renny Harlin movie about genetically modified sharks (well, give or take a definite article). Both films deal in high anxiety and the looming spectre of death and both indulge in their own particular brand of theatrics. And - this may surprise you – as cinema, the shark movie works better.

Part-inspired by such masterful works of filmic melodrama as All That Heaven Allows (1955) and Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948), with more than a touch of the heightened, adulterous shame of Brief Encounter (1945), The Deep Blue Sea is first and foremost (and most irksomely unavoidably) an adaption of Terence Rattigan’s 1952 play. It marks Davies’s return to narrative film-making - his first of the kind since 2000’s The House of Mirth - and it follows his triumphant paean to Liverpool, the documentary Of Time and the City (2008). The Deep Blue Sea is a tale of irresistible desire, the scandal of sexual and extra-marital liberation and the humiliation of sinking down through the British class system.

Over the stripped-back class of the opening credits, Rachel Weisz (pictured above and below right with Tom Hiddleston) reads heartrendingly from what transpires to be her suicide note, in unmistakeably smoky tones. Her voice cracks as she informs sweetheart Freddie (Tom Hiddleston) of her deadly intentions. The setting, as so often with Davies, is the 1950s, and this time it’s London. As the film begins, the camera floats up the façade of a terraced house on a lamp-lit street, eventually coming to rest on a top-floor window where we see a woman (Weisz) looking out sadly. Exterior becomes interior as we watch her sharply snap shut the curtains, ominously stuff a blanket under the door, position a note and scrape the change off the mantelpiece before feeding the gas meter. In the gloom of this poky bedsit, Hester Collyer has decided to take her own life.

We are then taken back in a fog of memories to establish how it has come to this, witnessing the early, swoonsome stages of Hester and Freddie’s illicit romance. Unfortunately, these moments are rather marred by a distractingly overwrought score (even for melodrama) which drenches proceedings in lashings of anguish. It’s bravura but somewhat overdone. Furthermore, from the moment he appears, Freddie seems (as he will throughout) impossibly obnoxious. A physical slap takes us from Hester’s haze of remembrance into the story proper - and already it feels a little as if the film is in need of one too.

Hester is the disgraced wife of a much older high court judge, Sir William Collyer (Simon Russell Beale) and she has fallen à corps perdu for ex-RAF pilot Freddie Page. Driven by a shamefully potent sexual desire, she abandons her kind-but-dull husband for the hard-up, capricious Freddie and finds herself in the inauspicious working-class boarding house of Mrs Elton (Ann Mitchell). She is isolated, wracked with ennui but desperately hooked on her man; her scandalous liberation has brought her great misery and our heroine is, as the title suggests, “caught between the devil and the deep blue sea”.

The Deep Blue Sea is by no means a disaster, but it rankles far too frequently to get lost in its world

The Deep Blue Sea was brought to Davies by producer Sean O’Connor and, in adapting his first play for the big screen, Davies has spoken about cutting the more unconvincing elements of the play, as well as adding his own scenes. Despite an apparent absence of the personal, it shares much with Davies’s formidable body of work. It recalls the gorgeous romantic misfortune and (better judged) melodrama of The House of Mirth, which benefited from a more sympathetic tragedienne in Lily Bart (Gillian Anderson, playing a blinder); the era if not the city of the semi-autobiographical The Long Day Closes (1992) and Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988); as well as a semblance of the fractured, memory-imitating structure of the latter. Although conventional realism plays little part in Davies’s films, they have always rung utterly true.

In contrast to Davies’s previous films, however, rather than evoking an era his latest merely seems desperately dated. And if ever there was a film which aptly demonstrates the gulf between the mediums of cinema and theatre it’s The Deep Blue Sea. For all of its cinematic sheen, Davies’s modifications and Weisz’s radiance, it couldn’t scream its theatrical origins any louder (not least as Hiddleston - so marvellously quiet in Archipelago - often booms his lines as if he’s trying to reach the back row). There’s an unavoidable staginess to its two or three-hander scenes, with characters persistently speaking in excruciatingly slow speeches. As events unfold from Hester’s perspective, Freddie is sidelined and rarely appears more than flaky. A possibly unintentional evocation is that of W Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage, a desperately unromantic novel which deals with the torture of falling hopelessly for someone awful but being unable to help oneself.

Do by all means rush and see Davies’s other films, but ultimately this is a terrifically beautiful folly

The Deep Blue Sea is by no means a disaster, but it rankles far too frequently to get lost in its world. Florian Hoffmeister’s Vermeerian cinematography is gorgeously soft and gloomy; there are exquisite moments where the camera lovingly lingers on smoke hanging in the air, or the way it clearly relishes the delicacy of Weisz’s touch. Also, the film does, to an extent, capture the sensuality of the affair - Davies is such a master at evoking senses and feelings. The rather glorious Weisz straddles the line (sometimes comfortably, other times less so) between theatrical and cinematic performance, but any fine work she does is frequently undone by the dialogue she utters. There’s an interesting episode involving William’s mother (Barbara Jefford) who is humorously, almost refreshingly unpleasant, but it’s dealt with a touch too swiftly.

For all its covetable interiors and softly lit anguish, coming from a director of Davies’s calibre The Deep Blue Sea is a significant disappointment; it’s a seldom convincing, often overegged tale of romantic woe. The artifice of its source material is unfortunately magnified by its elevation to the big screen. Do by all means rush and see Davies’s other films, but ultimately this is a terrifically beautiful folly. Perhaps it could have done with some genetically modified sharks.

  • The Deep Blue Sea is in cinemas from Friday

Watch the trailer to The Deep Blue Sea

The artifice of its source material is unfortunately magnified by its elevation to the big screen


Editor Rating: 
Average: 2 (1 vote)

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