The Deep Blue Sea is a British drama film directed by Terence Davies and starring Rachel Weisz, Tom Hiddleston and Simon Russell Beale. It is an adaptation of the 1952 Terence Rattigan play The Deep Blue Sea about the wife of a Judge who engages in an affair with an RAF pilot. This film version is funded by the UK Film Council and Film4, produced by Sean O'Connor and Kate Ogborn. Filming began in late 2010 and it was released in the UK in 2011, the year of Terence Rattigan's centenary. It was released in the United States in 2012 by distributor Music Box Films
Set 'around 1950', The Deep Blue Sea tells the story of Hester Collyer, the younger wife of High Court judge Sir William Collyer, who has embarked on a passionate affair with Freddie Page, a handsome young RAF pilot troubled by his memories of the war.
The majority of the film takes place during one day in Hester's flat, a day on which she has decided to commit suicide. Her attempt fails and as she recovers, the story of her affair and her married life is played out in a mosaic of short and sporadic flashbacks. We soon discover the constraints of Hester's comfortable marriage, which is affectionate but without sexual passion.
As Hester's affair is discovered she leaves her life of comparative luxury and moves into a small dingy London flat with Freddie. Hester's new lover has awakened her sexuality, but the reckless, thrill-seeking Freddie can never give her the love and stability that her husband gave. Yet to return to a life without passion would be unbearable. The film takes its title from her dilemma.
Terence Rattigan's romantic drama set in a repressive postwar Britain is brought to the big screen superbly by Terence Davies
The Observer, Sunday 27 November 2011
If we count his first three short films made on shoestring budgets between 1976 and 1983 as a trilogy, and his next, Distant Voices, Still Lives, as a diptych (they were actually made separately), Terence Davies has directed a mere seven films in 35 years. This puts him in the same exclusive league for low output and high quality as his contemporary, Terrence Malick. Davies's last film, Of Time and the City (2008), was a withering documentary about the sad decline of his hometown, Liverpool, and it followed two feature pictures adapted from American novels set at different times and in different American milieux, John Kennedy Toole's The Neon Bible and Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth.
His outstanding new movie, The Deep Blue Sea, is a version of a play by Terence Rattigan, who died in 1977 aged 66, Davies's present age. Despite the difference in age and background (Rattigan upper middle class, home counties, Church of England; Davies working class, northern, Catholic), they have much in common: being gay, having a deep attachment to England, a sympathetic understanding of women and a stoical sense of living with and making the uncomplaining best of the hand life has dealt you. This is perhaps best expressed in Rattigan's plays The Browning Version, Separate Tables and The Deep Blue Sea, all filmed in the 1950s, but none with such love, attention and understanding as Davies brings to his present task.
Rattigan's characteristically well-made play, first staged in 1952 with Peggy Ashcroft in the lead, is set on a single day in a dingy bedsit in north London. It begins with an act of despair as Hester, 40ish estranged wife of reserved, 50ish high court judge Sir William Collyer, attempts to commit suicide (a crime in those days) by gassing herself. This action is dictated by the callously offhand behaviour of her lover, the 30ish Freddie Page, a handsome, feckless, sexually vigorous ex-Battle of Britain pilot. The play ends symmetrically beside the same fireplace, but this time the gas is lit – an unforgettably simple gesture, an act of almost heroic resignation.
Davies has skilfully reworked the play, cutting it up into a number of short scenes, beginning with a quarter of an hour almost without dialogue. This sequence first creates a lifeless early morning in a 1950 Ladbroke Grove cul-de-sac that looks a lot like the murderer John Christie's killing field at Rillington Place. A montage then establishes the frustrated life of Hester (Rachel Weisz) at home with her unresponsive husband (Simon Russell Beale), her meeting with the dashing Freddie (Tom Hiddleston), their passionate love-making and the writing of the suicide letter, which later falls into Freddie's hands with disastrous consequences.
Davies drops conventional chronology to give us moments from Hester's life such as her meetings with the overbearing mother-in-law to whom her husband is in thrall. If Sir William is the deep blue sea of the chilly but kindly British establishment, Freddie, with his passion for sport, his drinking, his devotion to fading military glory, is its devilish other face, the physically fulfilling, misogynistic philistine. There is a gay subtext in Rattigan's play, but it is subtly buried. Davies leaves it there as he directs us to observe The Deep Blue Sea as a link between Brief Encounter, which appeared just as the second world war ended, and John Osborne's Look Back in Anger, which supposedly introduced a new, angry, less repressed Britain in 1956. We now see in Davies's film what might have been, had Celia Johnson's character in Brief Encounter taken off with a Jimmy Porter figure, a self-loathing, insensitive narcissist. Freddie is obsessed, as Porter was, with a romantic notion of the past and the belief that there are, as Jimmy puts it, "no good, brave causes left".
Davies elicits outstanding performances from his central triangle, all sympathetic in their various ways, lacking in self-awareness and victims of sorts. Tom Hiddleston, however, has a suggestion of a hidden sensitivity as well as a bitterness that was lacking in the character as created on stage (and later played in the film) by Kenneth More and which made More so much sadder a figure. Davies also brings to the film a particular stylistic trope of his own that he developed in Distant Voices, Still Lives, the drawing together of people into a community through popular music. In the new film a group sheltering in an underground station during the blitz sing "Molly Malone" (a folk song that echoes Hester's own tragedy); later the drinkers in a packed pub raucously perform the 1952 hit "You Belong to Me", which modulates into Jo Stafford's version as Hester and Freddie dance, slowly and romantically, in the empty art deco foyer of a hotel. This is a magical moment in a movie in which Davies, his cinematographer Florian Hoffmeister, production designer James Merifield and costume designer Ruth Myers masochistically capture a key period in British life, a repressed and repressive time. They coat it with the brown varnish of postwar austerity.