Terrence Davies visits 1950s Britain once again as he did in his 1988 film Distant Voices, Still Lives with a new adaptation of Terrence Rattigan's play The Deep Blue Sea - the story of a lawyer's wife who leaves her comfortable but dull existence to seek a life of thrills and above all passion through a Royal Air Force pilot. Rachel Weisz plays Hester Collyer the unfulfilled housewife of lawman William Collyer (Simon Russell Beale) and Tom Hiddleston plays Freddie, the man who is both Hester's solace and her undoing.
The film begins with a tracking shot of the war stricken streets of Britain, the date is 1950 and as the camera cranes up to meet a figure in a window we are introduced to Hester who is present in every scene of the film and who the film revolves around completely. The opening 10 minutes of The Deep Blue Sea is breathtaking in an almost dialogue free montage of Hester preparing her suicide, the music swells, we realise what she's doing and before we know anything else, we care. Through Hester's recovery from her failed attempt at dying we see intermittent flashbacks of the breakdown of her marriage through her feelings for Freddie and how she has hit rock bottom. Husband William is well off, sensitive, kind and contained whereas Freddie is fiery and selfish. In William she had a life of leisure but a hollow one at that, she feels that through Freddie she will get what's missing in her life - passion and spontaneity. The reality of it is that Hester simply trades one set of problems for another, she has another life with Freddie but disillusionment has followed, the problem it seems is inherent in her.
Rachel Weisz is extremely impressive here and has probably never been better but despite the all round high level of acting by all involved and the film's gorgeous set design and music it seems to be let down by a lack of narrative cohesion. Weisz is definitely good enough to make us care for her and for us to try and understand what makes Hester tick but we're never given a big enough picture to be able to do so fully. We're never given sufficient access to the supporting characters who are the key to unlocking Hester's actions yet we're left with scraps of details to give us a foothold and this simply doesn't suffice. We see Hester at her lowest and are given snippets of her past to reveal how she has arrived at her predicament but these fragments of information never add up to the raw dangerous emotion we see in Hester. The film more than successfully shows how trapped Hester feels in her marriage, desperately unhappy and suppressed by social norms and etiquette we see how she needs escape. The problem is with her escape to Freddie as we're never given enough to draw on therefore finding it hard to relate to Hester's self destructive and obsessional love for him despite his unrequited feelings for her.
The film is interesting thematically as it explores doomed love that is both magnetic and addictive, driving both involved to despair through their refusal to realise the consequences of such a poisonous relationship.As a whole the film doesn't reach the heights that it should through lightly flowing over too much back story, perhaps the films flashback approach was ill used and a more linear usage would have created more of a empathetic and rewarding experience. Either way it feels like the scenes that would help strengthen the narrative were left on the cutting room floor.
Great performances, excellent period set design, and a truly effecting score help save a weak narrative of a film that should have had a lot more to say about destructive love and post-war sensibilities. Perhaps Terrence Davies failed to realise that despite this being Hester's story she wasn't his only interesting character and without knowing the others (especially Freddie) we're never given the chance to really know her. Still, well worth the price of admission and an excellent example that British cinema still has a pulse. Rachel Weisz could easily end up winning some awards from this as long as Meryl Streep stays out of her way too.