Friday, January 4, 2013

The Deep Blue Sea Movie Review

I can’t figure out why director Terence Davies thought it necessary to adapt The Deep Blue Sea, the 1952 Terence Rattigan play about an extra-marital love affair in post-war London, to the screen again. It was done once with Vivien Leigh in the starring role in 1955 and, though I haven’t seen it, I would bet that it’s a much better production, if only because it fits its time period. Davies’ version, which stars Rachel Weisz, does nothing to update the material or to break it free of its period constraints, both in terms of subject matter and film style. This is a movie that moves as slow as molasses on a cool day. For a story about a woman desperately in love with a man whose ardor has cooled, it just feels stilted and wrong.

As the movie opens, Hester (though Rattigan might also have named her Anna or Emma for want of a more apt literary namesake) has just attempted to kill herself over the loss of passion from her lover. We catch the couple during the downward spiral, the final death throes of their affair, after her husband has found them out, after he’s conceded to a divorce, and after the newness and excitement has worn off for her lover, Freddy.

Davies, who would readily admit to a fondness for classical cinema, does everything he can to make the movie feel like it comes from another era. It’s full of Douglas Sirk level melodrama, but absent the color. It’s shot in a haze of soft lighting and dim shadows with set decoration and costuming that give it almost a sepia tone quality. The film remains bottled up, never allowing the story to breathe.

The performances don’t help much, though they are befitting the overall theatrical style of the film. As Hester, Weisz is convincingly lovelorn, devastated, and conflicted. Tom Hiddleston pushes Freddy too hard. He’s a man still yearning for the glory of his days in the RAF during the war, a man who now fills that absence with drink. Hiddleston’s gestures are theatrical to the point of obviousness. On film everything needs to be brought down a few steps. The best performance is by Simon Russell Beale as Hester’s husband Bill. His quiet and withdrawn acceptance of his marital situation is the only one that matches the tone of the film, and he’s the only character I felt palpably connected to.

I kept thinking all the time about Neil Jordan’s adaptation of Graham Greene’s 1951 novel The End of the Affair. The two stories are contemporaneous and their modern film adaptations are equally languorous to the point feeling torpid. Coincidentally, the Greene novel was made into a film also in 1955. The styles of the two films are so similar and so completely unsuitable to modern cinema. I had nearly forgotten about the existence of Jordan’s film until Davies’ brought it unfortunately back to mind.

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