The Deep Blue Sea – Reviewed

Rachael Jones finds a director at the height of his powers, and armed with a sonnet…

London, 1950 (ish), a woman stares out of a window to a voiceover of her own suicide note. She turns, gulps down a few more pills than are healthy, turns on the gas and lies down to await her death.

So begins The Deep Blue Sea, Liverpool-born director Terence Davies’ first feature in more than a decade. An adaptation of the Terence Rattigan play of the same name, it’s both slavishly loyal to and completely ignorant of its source material. Swathes of supporting characters are culled, with others added – and the reams of exposition that make up the entire first act of the play are gone too.

Instead, we’re treated to a series of glorious flashbacks, Davies showing us his world through leading lady Hester’s eyes rather than the mouthpiece of her landlady. Through these, we discover that Hester (played by Rachel Weisz) has recently walked out on posh hubby Sir William Collyer and shacked up with former flyboy Freddie (Tom Hiddleston, taking a break from terrorising comic book heroes), with whom she’s crazy in love.

So why is she so determined to kill herself?

Turns out Freddie isn’t exactly the perfect boyfriend. They’re shacked up in a seedy boarding-house, he’d rather play golf with his chums than spend time with her. Plus, he’s forgotten it’s her birthday. Cue melodramatic  attention grabbing suicide attempt.

The film is named for the famous saying ‘caught between the Devil and the deep blue sea,’ or being caught in a dilemma between two equally unappealing situations. Hester’s caught between an elderly, boring husband and a boyfriend who just doesn’t love her the way she does him. Nor is he likely to.

One of the most interesting things about the film is how while none of the characters are exactly likeable – we certainly wouldn’t want to be pals with any of them – Davies is super-careful not to demonise any of them. They’re just three people who love each other in ways none of them can reciprocate; with poor, doomed Hester stuck in the middle.

On the subject of Hester, we’ve got to say we’re not sure how popular she’ll be with a modern audience. She’s weepy, clingy and a drama-queen victim of her own choices – and watching her almost masochistic fawning over the not-at-all-bothered Freddie is more embarrassing than romantic.

“She’s weepy, clingy and a drama-queen victim of her own choices”

That’s not to criticise the performance of Rachel Weisz, because she’s uh-mazing in the role; she was totally wasted in those Mummy movies. The men in her life are top-drawer too; Tom Hiddleston in particular, is one to watch.

The whole shebang is beautifully shot; it says a lot that on our first glimpse of Hester we were more transfixed by the peeling paint surrounding her than the lady herself. And as for the way she exhales smoke…it’s one of the most cinematic things we’ve seen all year. Plus the period detailing is spot-on.

We can’t wrap this up without mentioning the score. Samuel Barber’s Op.14 for violin throughout, it’s so achingly beautiful it’s like someone is literally playing our heartstrings. And we don’t care how cheesy that sounds.

Oh, and one more thing. ‘Old fruit’ is possibly the best term of endearment we’ve ever heard.

Post-film, we were treated to a Q and A with the man himself – and he didn’t disappoint, although we’re always surprised when people turn out shorter than we imagined them! Here are a few golden nuggets from the chat:

So what films influenced The Deep Blue Sea? The films Davies grew up with, 1950s ‘womens pictures,’ were his primary influence – along with musicals and Doris Day! (Davies’ first experience of Doris Day is so vivid he can even remember what his sister was wearing.)

He also discussed the process of adapting plays for the big screen – saying he believes his treatment of the source material remained true to the spirit of Rattigan’s work but was more cinematic. He spoke about some of the changes he was forced to make; for example, for the entire first act of the play, main character Hester doesn’t even appear on stage!

‘If it’s going to be a film, it has to be a film. It can’t be a photographic play.’

And the score? Davies described Barber’s Op.14 as ‘achingly romantic’ and claimed inspiration from Brief Encounter for the idea of a recurring leitmotif. (Brief Encounter uses Rachmaninov, in case anyone was planning on Googling it). As for the sing-alongs, as Davies put it back then pop music was made to be resung, en masse, while getting sozzled down the pub. It was ‘poetry for the ordinary person.’

He also touched on where he feels The Deep Blue Sea fits into his body of work; hoping it’s more mature than his earlier autobiographical works. He also revealed he’s just finished a script about famously reclusive poet Emily Dickinson!

What are the differences between the stage version of Hester and the Davies/Weisz version? Davies believes the play’s Hester just isn’t convincing; it’s not just about love, she also discovers sex – and that’s what overwhelms her. He also feels that the play is somewhat judgemental, whereas none of his characters are baddies; they’re just three people who can’t give the love required of them.

Someone in the audience asked where Davies feels Hester can go from her position at the end of the film (which we won’t spoil, of course). He reckons her outlook is pretty bleak, but that he wanted the ending to imply hope, that she’ll pick herself up and start again. For him, that’s the true nature of people – that no matter what, they always have hope that things will get better.

He finished the Q and A by reciting Shakespeare’s Sonnet 60; which was a rather lovely moment, so we’ll recreate it for you here.

‘Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore,

So do our minutes hasten to their end;

Each changing place with that which goes before,

In sequent toil all forwards do contend.

Nativity, once in the main of light.

Crawls to maturity, wherewith being crown’d,

Crooked eclipses ‘gainst his glory fight,

And Time that gave doth now his gift confound.

Time doth transfix the flourish set on youth

And delves the parallels in beauty’s brow.

Feeds on the rarities of nature’s truth,

And nothing stands but for his scythe to mow:

And yet to times in hope, my verse shall stand

Praising thy worth, despite his cruel hand.’

Rachael Jones

Watch the trailer here

Images courtesy of Artificial Eye


Posted on 09/12/2011 by thedoublenegative