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The Deep Blue Sea (2011) – Blu-ray & DVD review

April 2, 2012 by Simon Kinnear in At Home with 0 Comments

Jeez, how much does Terence Davies wish he’d made Brief Encounter? An exquisite, melancholy film, but it’s too much nuance and too little nourishment.

The Deep Blue Sea
(Terence Davies, 2011)

Some films are all about nuance.  In The Mood For Love is the obvious example, a film of gestures and glances, decor and repressed desire.  It’s an apt comparison, because The Deep Blue Sea feels like a British version of Wong Kar-Wai’s film: a period piece that uses the trappings (or, specifically, the traps) of its era to put the spotlight on emotional opportunities we take for granted.  The difference is that The Deep Blue Sea was never written to be a period piece, and the tension is that, somehow, the material is still trapped back then.

The more Terence Davies strives for period authenticity, the more the film resembles a séance.  The subject matter of his namesake Terence Rattigan’s play feels like little more than highbrow soap opera, the scandalous story of a woman torn between Sir William, her dutiful but dull husband William and Freddie, the primal bit of rough fighter pilot who is stirring passions that post-war Britain would rather not be seen in public.  Caught between the Devil and the deep blue sea: no wonder Rachel Weisz’s Hester is suicidal.  Sixty years have diluted the impact and an emotional straitjacket makes you notice the implausibilities – Freddie is a self-absorbed prick, Sir William is incredibly lovable and Hester looks miserable for no good reason.

So it never transcends in the way that Brief Encounter, or In The Mood For Love do.  The best scenes are between Weisz and Simon Russell Beale as Sir William, who strike a tone of cordial respect but genuine affection as the drifted-apart couple. It’s a genuinely adult relationship, of the type cinema rarely bothers to tell.  So while Tom Hiddlestone is astoundingly charismatic as Freddie, but (save for one abstract sex scene in which a camera spirals above the entwined lovers) his character is so callow it’s hard to see him and Weisz together.

Where the film succeeds is in Davies’ lived-in, evocative visual style.  It’s hard, of course, to film a play, and the dead giveaway is in elegant, eloquent two-handed scenes that ripple with the subtleties of Terence Rattigan’s dialogue.  But Davies is just as interested in establishing the atmosphere of post-war London visually, and these potentially stagey scenes are shot with an eye on faded wallpaper and the muddy half-light from the lamps. 

And when the director gets a chance, he shows his virtuosity: in an elliptical, time-hopping string of flashbacks that provide the shards of backstory we need; or in a gorgeous tracking shot along Aldwych tube platform during a WWII blackout.  For all Rattigan’s exquisitely calibrated slanging matches between the lovers, Davies’ greatest coup is of wordless hostility conducted against the ironic backdrop of carousing drinkers in the midst of a rousing sing-song.

Extras are scarce – a making of and an interview with Davies – but both confirm the director as Britain’s most eccentric, enthusiastic talents, especially when he tells of discovering Rachel Weisz, babbling over the phone to his producer about her “luminosity,” only to be told, “Terence, everybody knows who she is except you.”

The Deep Blue Sea is released today on Blu-ray and DVD.

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