I’m not going to lie; I cried buckets at this film. But then I suppose a film that begins with 10 minutes of skirling violins and failed attempt at suicide was never going to be laugh-a-thon. This, then, is Terence Davies’ recent adaptation of Terence Rattigan’s 1952 play The Deep Blue Sea which I am reliably informed, remains reasonably faithful to the spirit of the original, if not the actual script.
The film begins late one evening in post-war London, around 1950 we are told, as the camera pans across a beautifully evocative row of Victorian terraces. Really we needn’t have been told the year, the aesthetic of London during and after the bombing has been amply covered in films, plays and books pretty much since it happened, it’s possibly the most used setting for swoon-inducing romance ever, and with good reason. This film is just gorgeous, everything is softly lit, softly focused and, for the most part, softly spoken which makes the blazing rows and harsh words all the more jarring.
In essentials the story is very close to that of Tristan and Isolde, a placid, patient, passionless marriage is exchanged for a blazing riot of a love affair which seems to hurt more than it heals and poses the question: which should one choose? Passion or safety? Hester, played by Rachael Weisz, encounters both within this film and neither one seem to be able to stop her from trying to end her life.
We are shown through flashbacks how the affair began, although more often that not I found myself making the connections backwards, for example, that Freddie (Tom Hiddleston) was a friend, or at least an acquaintance of the Judge whose wife he stole. The story of the past is told over the course of one night, interspersed with flashes of the present as the ex-Lady Hester Collyer tries to reason with herself and her lover after her act of desperation is uncovered and he storms out to the pub. She is clearly painfully aware that her passion is smothering him, and worse, isn’t returned in kind, but continues with a desperation that is genuinely heartbreaking. As is the controlled performance from Simon Russell Beale as the hurt and bemused husband who goes from being remembered by Hester snarling a refusal to allow her a divorce to arriving a mere 10 months later on her doorstep with a worried frown having been contacted by a concerned landlady. He is the one who points out the obvious inequality in her relationship, surprisingly not out of spite but more like a concerned friend, and then quietly accepts her insistence that she doesn’t mind, that she couldn’t leave even if she wanted to.
If I had one complaint about this film, apart from the wealth of tissues it destroyed, it would be that Davies has made things just that bit too pretty, too rose-tinted almost. Not just the glowing picture of wartime camaraderie and cosy pub sing-a-longs but Hiddleton and Weisz themselves, quite apart from the fact that they are both naturally gorgeous people he appears to have smoothed them and toned them to the point that in one scene I’m almost certain Tom Hiddleston didn’t even have leg hair. That’s just unnatural. Put beside the silver-haired Beale as well, Weisz looks far too young, although that may have been done on purpose to emphasise their lack of compatibility. Unfortunately it’s done so convincingly I often found myself wondering why on earth they got married in the first place.
While it would be possible to scorn the character of Hester as feeble-minded and easily impressed as Freddie does during one of his crueller moments I think that would be selling her terribly short, and Rachael Weisz does a wonderful job of giving us a woman who isn’t simply a hopeless romantic waiting for the first handsome chap to sweep her off her feet. She stands up for herself against a drunken Freddie and is unabashedly rude to her spiteful mother-in-law whose snobbish attempt to make her feel inferior would put Lady Catherine de Bourgh to shame. The most heart-wrenching thing about this film is the pathetic situation it leaves its main protagonist in and the helpless, hopeless way she is forced to act by no one but herself. Considering that the actual time the film spans can be no more than 12 hours there are a whole lot of hearts on sleeves and they almost all get broken.
Fran works at Phoenix Square as a Front of House Assistant and has a thoroughly useful degree in Drama. Her interests aside from films are mainly tea and cake. Occasionally biscuits.