Terence Davies’ adaptation of Terrence Rattigan’s 1952 play invites the kind of question we should always be so fortunate to ask: Is Rattigan’s text that timeless, or is Davies’ sense for how to interpret it cinematically that remarkable?
The answer is probably some of both, though the latter might be most impressive. The story follows a woman named Hester (Rachel Weisz), who at the outset is in the process of a suicide attempt. As the narrative shifts back and forth in time, we learn the context: Married to stolid lawyer William Collyer (Simon Russell Beale), Hester begins a passionate affair with World War II veteran Freddie Page (Tom Hiddleston) that forces her to confront what it is she can’t live without in a relationship.
Rattigan’s simple setup delivers a staggering level of emotional honesty, built on characters whose flaws are never used to demonize them. He offers both sympathy for Hester’s unfamiliar experience of passion, and recognition of the truth spoken by her no-nonsense landlady (Ann Mitchell), who cares for her ailing husband: “Real love is wiping someone’s ass … and letting them keep their dignity.”
Yet it never comes across as rote text-worship, thanks to the poetry of Davies’ interpretation. He directs three magnificent central performances, with the scenes between Weisz and the brilliant Beale in particular peeling away layers of a complex relationship. And he crafts at least two shots that are instant classics: a tracking shot through a tube station that has become an impromptu shelter of mutual comfort during the Blitz, and a slow dance between Hester and Freddie that both of them must realize is probably their last. The Deep Blue Sea is a piercing study of the moments we realize something just can’t work, born of a collaboration between two artists where nearly everything works.
THE DEEP BLUE SEA