This is one of three film reviews that I wrote for an online magazine that never launched so I’ve decided to publish here instead.
Written & Directed by Terence Davies / Based on the play by Terence Rattigan / Starring Rachel Weisz, Tom Hiddleston, Simon Russell Beale / Cinematography by Florian Hoffmeister / Production by Film4, Artificial Eye, UK Film Council
Apparently laying dormant for many years in a flat in East London, the extraordinary creative force of Terence Davies is not a common sight on the world’s cinema screens – a sad fact, except when his fans’ years of patience are rewarded with such glorious and luxurious storytelling as this. After a decade in limbo – by his own account Davies was a victim of the insidious philistinism of British film and television institutions – it is a joy to finally witness his return to feature film drama. The Deep Blue Sea is a stupefyingly beautiful film, composed of direct, arresting tableaux and vignettes of emotions described and evoked, like pages ripped from the diary of a soul torn by passionate grief but held together by an inimitable vivacity.
Based on Terence Rattigan’s 1952 play, the film journeys through the memories and trials of Hester Collyer (Rachel Weisz) in the day-and-a-half following her attempted suicide. Awaiting divorce from her judge husband (Simon Russell Beale), she lives in a boarding house with her lover and object of intense, maddening affection, Freddie (Tom Hiddleston). Incapable of giving Hester the unconditional love she heaps upon him, Freddie is determined to drink deeply from the cup of life in search of a thrill (or numbness) that could match the sensation of his time as a pilot in the Battle of Britain. Hester’s attempted suicide initially seems like the last desperate act of a woman chasing an unattainable goal. However, whilst wandering through Hester’s memories and the ebb and flow of the present, joy and grief become entangled, and it appears that desperation, in fact, is a burden belonging to the men from whom Hester must get free.
Weisz carries the tremendous weight of an emotionally demanding script with humility and conviction, her face and gestures colouring the story boldly as Hester finds herself helpless against her roaring passion for Freddie, only to realise that, so soon, it is time to drag herself back to a realm lit by more than a single flame. Davies’ evocation of the period is luscious and inspirational. From Hiddleston’s rakish good looks against the backdrop of a fine estate, to the sensual flow of cigarette smoke across a room, to the poignant hum of a pub sing-along, Davies’ painterly images and penchant for sincere melodrama create a sumptuous London past in which Hester’s Sisyphean love life plays out on a scale that is at once modest and grandiose.