Thursday Editor’s Pick: The Deep Blue Sea (2012)

by on March 9, 2012Posted in: Editor's Pick

Playing Thurs March 15 at 7:00 at BAMcinématek [Program & Tix]
*Q&A with Terence Davies and Rachel Weisz

BAM celebrates the impending release of Terence Davies’ return to classic period feature filmmaking, Deep Blue Sea, with a retrospective running thru March 27. The series opens with a sneak preview presented by director and star Weisz. Meanwhile, his 1992 autobiographical The Long Day Closes opens at Film Forum March 26 for a week-long run.

Michał Oleszczyk saw it at Toronto, for Fandor:

Davies’ strange, beautiful – if barely accessible – adaptation of Terence Rattigan’s play may be one of the most personal movies of this year’s TIFF. Compared to Davies’ The House of Mirth, with which it shares many thematic concerns, the new film is almost unbearably stark and unflinching in its treatment of its central character’s slow self-destruction. Some stunning Vermeerian compositions notwithstanding, this is a work utterly devoid of sunlight or any kind of natural beauty – which served as such an effective backdrop in The House of Mirth. Rachel Weisz is devastatingly good as a woman who drops everything for an erotic passion. Even as Davies revisits scenes from his previous films (especially from Distant Voices, Still Lives), he’s aiming at hitting a new tone of sexual despair that would be free of his Catholic sense of obliterating guilt, and would rather showcase the basic impossibility of erotic symmetry between lovers. Still, as Weisz’s character indicates, it’s all about “the shame of being alive”. Of all the movies I saw recently, this one will probably haunt me most relentlessly, luring me into many a repeated screening.



Geoffrey McNab for The Independent:

Terence Davies is a true romantic.
In Distant Voices, Still Lives and The Long Day Closes, he portrayed a brutal working-class childhood with extraordinary tenderness. In adapting, Terence Rattigan’s play about a woman (Rachel Weisz) who leaves her husband, judge Sir William (Simon Russell Beale), for a dashing RAF pilot (Tom Hiddeleston), he is entering a world a long way removed from the Liverpool tenements of his earlier films. The Davies touch is still obvious in the wonderfully elegant camerawork, the glowing close-ups of Weisz (made up to look as glamorous as any 1940s movie star) and even some of his trademark folksy pub singalongs. The film is highly stylised and yet still captures the primal feelings of the characters: the woman’s erotic longing and defiance, as well as her sense of suicidal shame.


Scott Tobias for The Onion AV Club:

Liverpool-born director Terence Davies frequently revisits post-war England, which fans of the semi-autographical films Distant Voices, Still Lives and The Long Day Closes and the autobiographical documentary Of Time And The City know well as his formative years. And though they were painful years, Davies nonetheless carries a deep nostalgia for the music and movies of the period, and behind his wonderfully caustic voice lurks an abiding romantic spirit. Adapted from Terence Ratigan’s play, The Deep Blue Sea draws the audience firmly into Davies-world once again—formal, old-fashioned, and suffocatingly insular, but also exquisitely realized and heartbreaking. A superb Rachel Weisz stars as a heroine prone to romantic destruction (and self-destruction), having split with a judge (Simion Russell Beale) to take up with a handsome, hard-drinking, abusive former WWII pilot (Tom Hiddleston). Weisz attempts suicide—partly out of despair, partly to get the attention of both men. Though mostly a chamber piece that forgoes period bric-a-brac for confining close-ups on the actors, The Deep Blue Sea still deftly moves back and forth in time, and notes the ravages of war on the city. Davies demands patience in setting up the emotional stakes, but the final act, consisting mainly of a reckoning between Weisz and Hiddleston, is a crushing acknowledgment of two people who know they’re no good for each other.



Jason Wood for Little White Lies:

The return to filmmaking of Terence Davies always gives cause for celebration. A figure responsible for some of the finest works in post-war British cinema, Davies’ films are remarkable for their symphonic structures and meticulous sense of composition and attentiveness to detail.
Thematically, physical and emotional endurance, class, restrictive family ties and the destructive effects of religion and other dogma are recurring concerns. In all these regards, The Deep Blue Sea is classic Davies territory and a potent reminder of why he is a director to cherish.


Stripping away much of Rattigan’s exposition and many of the extraneous characters that inhabited the original production, Davies, a scholarly aficionado of the melodrama, gives contemporary audiences an almost unbearably moving and assiduously non-judgmental story about women’s lives and desires. By extension, the film also looks in a wider sense at the quest, frequently fruitless or at best fleeting, for individual fulfilment and freedom.


The Guardian has an interview with Davies and Hiddleston, and another with Davies alone.



Phil Coldiron for The House Next Door:

After an 11-year absence from fiction filmmaking in which he produced only the acrid love letter to his hometown of Liverpool, Of Time and the City, Terence Davies has returned to narrative storytelling in the fluid, memorial style of his first features. Faithfully adapting Terence Rattigan’s overheated romance, the effect of this mixture of high theatricality in the performances and dialogue and pure cinema in the mise-en-scène turns out to be curiously similar to Davies’s blunt, distilled presentation of his own past. The story, set “sometime around 1950,” concerns a woman with a proclivity for suicide attempts (Rachel Weisz) who leaves her boring, wealthy husband (Simon Russell Beale) for a hotshot pilot (Tom Hiddleston), who’s everything her husband isn’t—a list that includes well-off, caring, or in love with her.
Davies collapses the entire first act of Rattigan’s play into a wordless 10-minute sequence that sets into motion all of the personal dynamics without any expository slogging, and while the rest of the film isn’t so radical, it nonetheless manages to achieve the rare feat of maintaining an unmistakably theatrical tone without ever playing as stagy in the least. Rattigan’s dialogue veers between clever and tedious—a fight in a museum is hilariously stymied by Hiddleston’s storming off with a shout of “I’m going to the impressionists!”; Rattigan follows this up in a reconciliation scene by having Hiddleston quip, “I only did it for the Monet”—and Weisz, Hiddleston, and Beale, all three accomplished stage actors, all bring off a balance between the small gestures of cinema and the bold ones of theater. The ghost of WWII haunts the film, materializing at two moments that prove to be its finest: a memory of community in the London Underground during an air raid that continues Davies’s use of song as a key social unifier, and the final shot, a crane movement that connects Weisz, who in the circular structure has progressed from total resignation to something like hope, to a stark post-war image—an ambiguous, moving moment that could only have been achieved in cinema.



Peter Bradshaw for The Guardian:

As Hester, Rachel gives a very calm, unshowy performance: it is easy to imagine another performer doing something operatic with this, and another director doing the same with more closeups, more music. But Davies and Reisz leave much of Hester’s sorrow unexplained. Certainly the awful inadequacy of romantic love is a part of it. Many people in a dull but comfortable marriage assume life would be wonderful if they had a passionate affair. And many people in a chaotic, insecure, passionate affair assume life would be wonderful if all this was wrapped up in marriage. Hester has had both of these experiences: and realises that life is still unsatisfying, still wrong.
Davies brings to Rattigan some of the themes and images from his film The Long Day Closes: gloomy, torpid interiors, seen often through a gauze of cigarette smoke. Most importantly of all, there are singalongs in pubs, the pubs in which Freddie and Hester celebrated their affair, and then where Freddie would stomp off grumpily to be on his own. Pub singalongs are such a vivid madeleine in this film: carrying the action back to earlier sing-songs in the war, and to those memories of bomb damage, still unrepaired in London’s streets and now an intolerable metaphor for the damage in people’s hearts. The Deep Blue Sea is a melancholy film without a doubt, but with great sweetness and delicacy.



Jonathan Romney for Sight & Sound:

In his patented singalong moments, Terence D, it might be objected, overwhelms Terence R. But then the film, unlike the play, is not remotely naturalistic. Rather than a conventional adaptation, this is more like a cinematic opera after Rattigan. The film’s masterstroke is a seamless eight-minute ‘prelude’, set to Samuel Barber, in which the surging orchestrations accompany a scene- and mood-setting crane shot from a bombed-out building to the window where Hester stands, prior to her suicide attempt (the shot is repeated in reverse, by daylight, as the film ends on an equivocally positive note). Barber’s concerto continues through a sparsely worded series of flashbacks – notably a bedroom sequence showing just how unequivocally carnal Hester and Freddie’s relationship is.
Davies has skewed the triangle in a somewhat Freudian direction, emphasising that Hester is caught untenably between a father-figure and a surrogate son. And, while arguments have raged over interpretations of Rattigan’s play as an encoded homosexual drama, the casting of Hiddleston as a faded ephebe certainly makes the film readable as both a traditional tragedy of female passion and an implicitly queer story about the pains of being mad about the boy.
Davies vividly catches the mood of Rattigan’s tattered post-war England, of painfully observed proprieties on one hand, untameable desire on the other. Visually the film evokes both emotional grandeur and material shabbiness, in the claustration of Hester’s tobacco-brown flat, a space where, when curtains are flung open, daylight enters but doesn’t illuminate. Rattigan’s Ladbroke Grove (not named in the film) is a desert for social exiles, victims of “anger, hatred, shame” – the conditions that afflict Hester’s soul, but which, Davies’s film reminds us, are perennial components of the English condition.


Adam Woodward talks to Davis, also for Little White Lies:

When did you first come across the Terence Rattigan play?

Well, I’ve never seen it staged; I’ve never seen any Rattigan staged. I only knew him by the film I’d seen in 1952, and I only saw that on television because I was seven when it was made. That was ‘The Browning Version’, and in the late ’50s Burt Lancaster did a version of Separate Tables, which is very good. So those were the only ones I knew. I was taken by my mother to see The Deep Blue Sea by my mother when I was 10, and I only remember one shot from it, which was this shot coming down some stairs. So when I was asked to do a play I said that I couldn’t do the two that I’ve just mentioned because the film versions are just so much better and I couldn’t do as well. But I said I thought I might be able to do something on The Deep Blue Sea. So that’s how it came about.
In your adaptation you make use of only a handful of interior locations, you pay particular attention to the bedsit, which is almost like the third arm of the relationship between ….

It’s an implied impression, if you see what I mean… Obviously that flat where they live is important because in those days, when my sisters started to get married, you couldn’t find a place to live. Either you lived at home or, and they were bleak beyond belief, you took a house that had one room, one lavatory for three flats and an open gas ring on a landing. I mean you wouldn’t get away with it now, you just wouldn’t. And so I remember those bleak rooms very well. My sister moved into one and god I hated it, it was that dark ’20s furniture and that cheap grey marble. I can just see that room. So it had to have that feeling of shabbiness, but also it was their only place to live so they were going to make the most of it. Actually in the play and in my film they live in two rooms, but in reality it would have probably been one room. And there’s a moment when the landlady lets Hester off not paying rent on time and I can tell you that wouldn’t have happened. You missed your rent once you were out. No ifs, buts or maybes, you were out on the street. No tenants rights, nothing.
But that flat is terribly important because it’s where that breakdown of that relationship takes place. And also it’s important because I grew up in the ’50s as the youngest of 10 and I’d very often be left alone in the house and would look at the rooms. Making this brought it all flooding back, so it had to be right. It’s got to show what she left, which is comparative luxury. I know what those interiors are like so it was really important to get it right and make that house a character. You’ve got to be able to feel that in this little house of maybe six or seven flats, each door has a story behind it. We’re just seeing one of them, of course, but you have to be able to believe in all of them
What do you love about movies?

I love their magic. In a crowded room, in the dark, you watch something collectively but you think the secrets are being told only to you. That’s magic.


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