Loosely adapted from the post-wartime Rattigan play, Terence Davies has another stab at the complexities of love, loss and contempt.
Carrying the heritage cinema baton on behalf of Good Ol’ Blighty, darling director Terence Davies has developed somewhat of a cult following across the globe; creating films which are unabashedly drenched in nostalgia and blitz-period romanticism. Such devotion is remarkable, not only because his films represent depressive themes, but also considering he has only realised five feature films in a career spanning three decades.
Stepping out behind his reclusive life, The Deep Blue Sea is Davies’ first feature film in over ten years. Is it the sea change, Gay Niggers from Outer Space sequel we’ve been crying out for him to make? Of course not. Instead, Davies continues onward through familiar means; tugging on the same old heart strings as usual.
Living passively in a passionless marriage, Hess (Rachel Weisz) gives up being the trophy wife of a high court judge (Simon Russell Beale) to pursue a new life with her fornicator, the hot-headed RAF pilot Freddie (Tom Hiddleston). Underestimating her fall in class, and overestimating Freddie’s love for her, Hess struggles to keep her hair perfectly coiffed, her smile still gleaming, and her sanity in check.
Even with such a conventional, melodramatic storyline, Weisz is nothing short of magnificent in the central role. As the film progresses, her rendition of Hess’ vulnerability and digression is almost palpable, creating unequivocal sympathy for a character that could have otherwise been considered trite. Hiddleston too carries the burden of this weightily emotional rollercoaster with his take on the stark, stalwart Freddie, a man fractured out of love by the harsh realities of war. Currently entertaining multiplex cinema audiences with his lauded take on supervillain Loki in Marvel’s Avengers Assemble, Hiddleston is proving himself to be one of Britain’s finest actor exports, with a dazzlingly bright future.
But back to our old friend Terence Davies, although he has the ability to muster up astonishing performances from his actors, his education as a director seems to be falling short. Although The Deep Blue Sea is an emotive viewing experience, it isn’t necessarily an enjoyable one. Very loosely adapted from Terence Rattigan’s 1952 stage play, Davies has failed to bring the pioneering British playwright’s rich grasp of vernacular to the film, resulting with fuddled dialogue and sluggish pacing. A few minor moments from Hess’ landlady aside (played by the ever-fabulous Ann Mitchell, the film is virtually devoid from any form of stiff-upper-lip post-Great Depression humor, which the storyline so gravely calls out for.
Narrative and thematic issues aside, one can not help consider just how out of touch Terence Davies is within British society. Although his work as director may be less than prolific, his films have always been distinguished by their usage of a vintage aesthetic shtick. Although petticoats, excessively smoky parlors and Vera Lynn singalongs can be fun once in a while, it would be interesting if Terence Davies could use the medium for advancement of society and new audiences, not oppressive back-paddling.
After a long wait Terence Davies is back at his miserable best, portraying the irrationality of the human condition and its limits. A film that plays into the hands of critics, rather than the general, popcorn chomping public, it is nevertheless difficult to be ignored.