If you miss the days of Merchant-Ivory films, or if you just enjoy a film with a stellar British pedigree, then The Deep Blue Sea is just the ticket. Based on the play by Terence Rattigan, scribe of such well-regarded works as Separate Tables and The Browning Version, The Deep Blue Sea is a tragic drama of love, lust and infidelity. Terence Davies, a director with a short, but highly respected list of credits, including Distant Voices, Still Lives, and The Long Day Closes, lovingly directs The Deep Blue Sea.
Set in London around 1950, as the title card says, a young woman finds herself married to a much older gentleman, a judge, who provides her with social status and a comfortable life. Unfortunately, he also provides her with the mother-in-law from hell. Along the way she encounters a dashing young war hero pilot and falls passionately in love. Given that much of the plot, you might be able to envision how the story plays out. It’s the stuff of romance novels and Masterpiece Theatre, which is not a bad thing. But what sets The Deep Blue Sea apart is the craft and care expended on bringing this tale to the screen for a second time.
Filmed previously in 1955, the first version starred Vivien Leigh, two-time Oscar winner for Gone With the Wind and A Streetcar Named Desire. Her career was in decline when she made The Deep Blue Sea and, in fact, only made two more films in the next ten years. The film was a resounding flop on both sides of the Atlantic, and owing to rights issues has never been, to my knowledge, released on video or seen on television recently.
This time around, director Davies has an outstanding cast with which to work. Rachel Weisz, Oscar winner for The Constant Gardener, gives a career-best performance as Hester Collyer, a woman of passion smothered in a controlled marriage. Simon Russell Beale plays her husband, Sir William, with an air of upper-crust stuffiness, but who also displays a layer of feeling and understanding underneath it all. He bears a slight resemblance to a latter-day Monty Wooley and like that great character actor, has a kind face and expressive eyes. Freddie Page, the object of Hester’s affection, or perhaps affliction if you will, is Tom Hiddleston. If the name doesn’t sound familiar, you’re sure to have seen him as F. Scott Fitzgerald in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, or as the flakey, villainous Loki in Marvel's The Avengers. Here he again proves he has the ability act all across the cinematic spectrum and make an impression no matter the character.
I was also very impressed by the cinematography by Florian Hoffmeister. Several of the scenes are lit and filmed as if to recall the elegance of a classic oil painting. And rather than use an original score, Davies has opted to use primarily music cues from compositions by Samuel Barber, which lends much emotion to the tale.
The R-rated The Deep Blue Sea is well worth your time, and is currently showing at the Kenwood Theatre.