Let The Deep Blue Sea be exhibit A against the argument for returning to the good ol’ days of the 1950s. With little ornament, yet much soulful agonizing, the intense new drama reveals many of the shortcomings but few of the pleasures of that era.
The film is based on Terence Rattigan’s play of the same name. It has been previously made into several other teleplays in Britain, as well as in Germany and Spain. Vivien Leigh starred in a 1955 movie based on the play, taking first the role now portrayed by Rachel Weisz.
Weisz plays an unlikely heroine for that period, a married woman who leaves her stable yet boring older husband for a handsome and exciting, but unstable, younger man. Playwright Rattigan, with screenplay here from writer-director Terence Davies, acutely captured that social stigma women suffered for behavior that would have been blithely ignored in a man. Seen today, such hypocrisy seems incomprehensible.
Davies jumps around when rendering his narrative, choosing to begin with a failed suicide attempt by Hester (Weisz). Obviously, things have not turned out how she expected, or wanted. We learn in flashback that she left her staid magistrate husband, Sir William Collyer (Simon Russell Beale), for frivolous Freddie Page (Tom Hiddleston).
Sea takes place almost entirely in drawing-room flats and narrow passageways, as director Davies seems to emphasize rather than avoid the obvious stage roots.
The one time he opens things up, his action proves visually remarkable. In a scene set during World War II, Davies pans along the length of a London subway station to offer a capsule look at a city under siege.
But by keeping his scenes mostly limited to oral exchanges, Davies emphasizes Rattigan’s piercing dialogue, as it becomes clear how Freddie has successfully charmed Hester before growing weary of her and discarding her.
Her shame equals her pain, as she has grown to love the bounder, an unrepentant sod who cares little that he has ruined a respectable life. For his part, the noble suffering husband initially grows angry. But over the 10 months Hester lives with Freddie in 1950s ignominy, Sir William remains perplexed in the extreme, asking, “How can you throw away so much for so little?”
It’s a question Hester cannot answer. She continues to believe that her obsessive, now unrequited, love can keep her from becoming what she has already become: an outcast.
BOO ALLEN is an award-winning film critic for the Denton Record-Chronicle.
The Deep Blue Sea
Rated R, 98 minutes.
Opens Friday at the Magnolia.