The Deep Blue Sea (2011) dir. Terence Davies
Starring: Rachel Weizs, Simon Russell, Tom Hiddlestone
By Greg Klymkiw
I used to think Terence Davies might well have been one of the most important living British filmmakers. I was wrong. He is, without question, Britain's most important living filmmaker. From his trilogy of mesmerizing shorts to his latest work, The Deep Blue Sea, Davies is easily as important to the framework of Great Britain's cinema heritage as Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger or any of the greats of the 1960s British New Wave.
Working in a classical style with indelible compositions, creating a rhythm through little, no or very slow camera moves and infusing his work with a humanity seldom rivalled, Davies recognizes the importance of cinema as poetry – or rather, using the poetry of cinema to create narrative that is truly experiential. (I doubt any audience member will forget the haunting underground tracking shot during the Blitz in this new picture – as evocative to the eye, ear and mind as anything I’ve seen.)
I’d go so far as saying that Davies might well be the heir apparent to film artists like Alexander Dovzhenko and Sergei Paradjanov – exploiting the poetic properties of cinema in all the best ways.
The Deep Blue Sea is a heartbreaking, sumptuous and tremendously moving adaptation of Terrence Rattigan’s great play of the same name. Rattigan’s theatrical explorations of class and sex have made for rich film adaptations, most notably The Browning Version, Separate Tables, The Winslow Boy and The Prince and the Showgirl. Rattigan, given the discriminatory criminalisation of homosexuality in England (his frequent collaborator, the closeted director Anthony Asquith, was the progeny of the man who signed Oscar Wilde’s arrest warrant) chose to primarily reflect on gay issues and culture by utilizing a critical dramatic look at the often troubled lives of straight couples.
Nowhere is this more powerfully rendered than in The Deep Blue Sea, which Davies has adapted with considerable homage to the play’s tone and themes while using the source as a springboard for his own unique approach to affairs of the heart. (While Davies oddly reduces the role and importance of the play’s one clearly gay character, one suspects he did this to focus more prominently on the trinity of its central characters.)
Here we feel and experience the tragic tale of Hester (Rachel Weisz), who leaves her much older, though loving husband, the respected judge Sir William (Simon Russell) when she meets the handsome, charming Freddie (Tom Hiddlestone), a former RAF pilot who allows her the joys of sex for the first time in her life.
Alas, Freddie’s a bit of a rake and soon tires of domesticity, and Hester is driven to seriously contemplating suicide. Sir William wishes desperately to have her back. The eternal dilemma is that Freddie doesn’t love Hester as much as she’d like, nor does Hester feel as much love for Sir William as he does for her.
This is a beautifully acted piece through and through. Most astonishing is the performance Davies coaxes out of Rachel Weisz - it's as infused with heartbreaking tragedy as the great work he pulled from Gillian Anderson in his perfect film adaptation of Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth.
The triangle in The Deep Blue Sea is played out with Davies’s trademark style and a welcome return to pubs thick with smoke and filled with songs sung by its inebriated denizens. Harking back to Distant Voices, Still Lives, the songs here are not so much a counterpoint to the drudgery of the characters’ lives as something indicative of an overwhelming malaise born out of repression and class.
Davies dazzles and moves us with his humanity and artistry.
It doesn’t take much to give over to his stately pace, and when we do, we’re drawn into a world that can only exist on a big screen, while at the same time providing a window on the concerns of days gone by that are more prevalent in our contemporary world than most of us would care to admit.
"The Deep Blue Sea" is currently in theatrical release via Mongrel Media.
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