Home Video Hovel- The Deep Blue Sea, by Kyle Anderson
It’s always a difficult task to adapt a stage play to film, regardless of the material. At some point, it’s always just people talking about stuff in a room. When the play is itself nothing but people sitting and talking in rooms, it becomes altogether more difficult. How can it be shot in order to make it cinematic or even visually interesting? That question has been answered in a very definitive way by British director Terence Davies for his film The Deep Blue Sea. Adapted by Davies himself from a conversation-heavy 1952 stage play by Terence Rattigan, The Deep Blue Sea is a study in love, memory, duty, sorrow, and ultimately life with lighting, design, and cinematography making up for the play’s inherent lack of “scope.” With a very small cast, these film construction aspects become a very important character unto themselves.
Set in the early 1950s, the film tells the story of Hester Collyer (played by Rachel Weisz), a beautiful woman of 40 who is married to an older, kindly judge (Simon Russell Beale). She’s never experience true love or passion in her life and her marriage is little more to her than friendship and societal obligation. Her life changes when she meets Freddie Page (Tom Hiddleston), a brash young war hero who puts little stock in the future and everything into now. Hester falls madly in love with Freddie and begins a heated affair. She knows that Freddie does not and cannot love her in the way she loves him, his mind still stuck in the past; however she wishes to devote herself fully to him. Much of the film is told in a series of dream-like flashbacks as well as via the aftermath of a choice Hester makes early in the film and explores the ways in which Hester treats and is treated by the men in her life.
Davies is a very well-respected and critically-acclaimed filmmaker who has only made a few films. I’d never seen any of them until this one, but it’s clear from the very beginning that he has complete control of his camera and what he wants it to show. There’s a smoky soft-focus to many of the scenes that deftly convey the way many view nostalgia, as Davies himself clearly has nostalgia for the time period. He makes amazing use of lighting. Scenes are lit with the lights that would actually be in the location and when someone turns on a lamp, that portion of the frame floods with a warm glow and never looks artificial. There are also some beautiful camera moves in the film. One in particular that comes to mind is an overhead shot of Weisz and Hiddleston in bed, embracing. The camera circles them, then fades to Weisz watching him sleep, then fades to the present with her lying by herself on the floor. It’s a very subtle dissolve and speaks volumes in just a short amount of dialogue-free time about their relationship and what she’s like without it.
The performances are uniformly exemplary. I always find it incredibly difficult to watch “Polite” English society. Sometimes I just want to shake these people and yell, “Say what you mean!!!” However, all three lead performances are wonderfully nuanced, yet full of energy. Weisz specifically plays subtext incredibly well. She’s never looked more beautiful on screen, either. I had to remind myself that she is actually a 40 year old woman in real life because she just seems so youthful in many of the scenes, which is perfectly befitting a woman who has finally come to life as it were. Hiddleston is terrific as well, playing someone who is all fire and passion all the time. He quickly turns from jocular to incensed and yet never does it seem out of place. We understand the backstory that has lead to this outburst without having to see each prior instance. Their final scene together is moving and heartbreaking and played perfectly.
In fact, if the film has any downfall it’s, unfortunately, in the writing. Not every scene, but some of them are betrayed by the very words that gave them life. Rattigan was a very lauded and prolific playwright, but he wrote in a time when stage dialogue was at its most stagey and there are a few moments when the structure of sentences took me out of the story. There’s a particular scene that comes to mind when Hester’s husband comes to visit her in the bedsit she shares with Freddie and not even a great actress like Rachel Weisz could make the lines, in this context, believable. Clearly, Davies has a reverence for the source material, but in some cases, dogged devotion to it hurts the film experience a bit. Many scenes do not suffer from this, but a few do and are hence particularly noticeable. It’s in these moments that the “woman on the edge of breaking-down” plot is at its weakest and most eye-rolling.
The DVD, just released last week, is full of features that give the film some great context. On top of short but insightful interviews with Weisz and Hiddleston, there is a brief making-of wherein director Davies, cinematographer Florian Hoffmeister, producer Kate Ogborn, and production designer James Merrifield discuss the specific look of the film and the choices Davies made to give it said look. There’s also a great Q&A by Davies recorded after a screening of the film where the well-spoken and old-fashioned director talks about the film. From listening to him for even a minute, you get the sense that this man absolutely adores making and talking about film and is excited to do so. Finally, there’s even more with Davies on the audio commentary track which is really one of the best and most informative director’s commentaries I’ve heard in quite a while.
As a whole, I would heartily recommend watching The Deep Blue Sea, as Davies and the actors manage to make it as cinematic as they can, though they can’t entirely escape the trappings of the theatre.