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The Deep Blue Sea

November 18, 2013

The Deep Blue Sea (2011)
Director: Terence Davies
Actors: Rachel Weisz, Simon Russell Beale, Tom Hiddleston

Synopsis: In early ’50s, post-war London, Hester (Rachel Weisz) has just tried unsuccessfully to kill herself. Through a series of flashbacks, as well as in the present day, we see reasons for Hester’s unhappiness as she is torn between two men: Bill (Simon Russell Beale), her kindly, but dull and repressive older lawyer husband; and Freddie (Tom Hiddleston), her dashing and charismatic current lover, but a broken young man, incapable of returning Hester’s love.

Review: Terence Davies works his customary magic over this deceptively slight Terence Rattigan play from the early ’50s. In many ways, the material is heaven-sent for Davies, from the chance to revel in both the grandiosity and austere shabbiness that the various post-war settings allow, to the story of repressed emotion and thwarted desire which are favourite themes and sensibilities in Davies’ cinema.

Unsurprisingly, The Deep Blue Sea is beautifully realised and designed, with a particularly majestic opening tracking shot moving across a typical London residential street before entering the window of Hester’s dingy flat where we locate her in all her misery, about to attempt to commit suicide. The apotheosis of Davies’ whole modus operandi though comes in a wonderful moment where Hester is caught running into an underground situation – perhaps to attempt suicide again – before the scene dissolves into her remembrance of Aldwych station when it was used as an air-raid bunker in the Second World War. The sequence elapses whereby the camera tracks along the station as all the various strands of London society are crammed in, singing along to “Sweet Molly Malone”, before the shot settles on Hester and her husband Bill in seemingly happier times. At this precise moment, the sequence shifts back to Hester in the present, seemingly having resisted the notion to throw herself in front of the train, but instead caught in a rapturous moment of emotion as the wind of the train passes by her. Though the sequence has clear debts to Brief Encounter and Douglas Sirk’s All that Heaven Allows with its gorgeous use of red in Hester’s coat and lipstick, it is also so unmistakably Davies’ in its execution and eloquent communication of the poignancy of memory.

Davies has also fashioned one of the great films about building a profound macro-drama out of a single event or day (I can think of Tom Ford’s underrated A Single Man or Cristian Mungiu’s amazing 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days as other examples). Only people who really understand the true tragedy of lost love will ‘get’ the trajectory of the narrative and the blink and you’ll miss it courage Hester shows when looking on Freddie one last time before his flight to South America. (December 2011)

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