365 Days, 100 Films #78 – The Deep Blue Sea (2011)

The Deep Blue Sea, 2011.

Written and Directed by Terence Davies.
Starring Rachel Weisz, Tom Hiddleston, Simon Russell Beale, Karl Johnson, Ann Mitchell, Harry Hadden-Paton, Sarah Kants and Jolyon Coy.


SYNOPSIS:

A woman is caught in a 1950s love triangle between her husband and a young, exciting, ex-RAF officer.


“Where are all the sharks?” I thought to myself about half an hour in, before the drama of The Deep Blue Sea fully encapsulates you. There isn’t a single black guy in it, let alone Samuel L. Jackson.

SPOILER: It ain’t about sharks.

That first half hour, where you’re waiting for the sharks, drags its feet in a post-suicide slumber. The film opens majestically with Hester Collyer (Rachel Weisz) closing the windows of her run-down flat, blocking the gap underneath the front door with linen and turning the gas on full, all set to the soaring violins of Samuel Barber. A dramatic opening, but the following half hour becomes considerably less so once her neighbours have revived her.

Flashbacks fade in and out of her present as Hester drearily recalls the reasons for her attempted suicide. Her sexless but loving marriage to William Collyer (Simon Russell Beale); his domineering mother; her judgemental clergyman father; her passionate affair with Freddie Page (Tom Hiddleston). They are shown out of order and sometimes appear insignificant to the grander narrative, a faithful portrayal of a distressed memory.

Nevertheless, the opening half-hour is tedious, the present only existing in dreamy, non-verbal minutes to bridge the flashbacks. The fades in and out come across as increasingly archaic and overly melodramatic after their continued use.

But then the film finds its passion, in contrast to the guarded enthusiasm of the opening. “Guarded enthusiasm” was the proposal by William’s mother to Hester as a way of avoiding something as crude as passion.

The film then becomes far more preoccupied with the present and Hester’s relationship with Freddie. It’s far more volatile and loud. The two share an extraordinary scene outside a local pub, Freddie petulantly reading Hester’s suicide note aloud, despite her pleas to the contrary.

Flashbacks flesh out their relationship further. Freddie will never be able to love Hester in the way she does him. She’s an addict, always imploring one last night or visit. She calls the friend’s house where he is staying under the false pretence of asking about a recent job interview, when really it’s simply another fix. Freddie, on the other hand, is a man still living in 1940. He talks of how he and his fellow fighter pilots did it for “dear, old Blighty”. He can’t settle, unable to come down from the skies in which he once fought.

Freddie shares none of Hester’s tastes like William did. In one flashback, they have a furious row in an echoing gallery after Hester finds humour in Freddie’s description of a Cubist painting. He throws the war as an excuse for not being as cultured as her, an attempt to deflect his own insecurities upon Hester.

They reconcile almost as quickly as they flared up, as is the way with such passionate love. “Why did you storm off to the Impressionists?” Hester gently inquires. “I did it for the Monet,” replies Freddie, their animosity cracking into smiles.

The film is based on Terrance Rattigan’s play, but Terrence Davies has taken considerable liberty. The action isn’t confined to a single apartment and the linear narrative is completely fragmented. He adds characters and scenes from his own, rich experiences in an attempt to bring a heightened realism. In so doing, Davies has created a film far more poetic than a straight adaptation, favouring tone over faithfulness.

And ‘poetic’ is truly the word. Watch the slow tracking shot down Aldwych tube station – crammed with men, women and children taking shelter during the Blitz, a sole man singing ‘Molly Malone’ unaccompanied with the everyone else joining in for the chorus – and try to describe it otherwise.

The Deep Blue Sea is an immensely sad story, submerged in unrequited love. But with Davies’ eye for composition, and Florian Hoffmeister’s blurred lights and colours shot through ancient lenses as though clouding all in a dense fog, there is a profound, reassuring poetry to it all.

RATING ****

Oli Davis

365 Days, 100 Films

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