Tales of unrequited love are two a penny – it is a favourite of writers and filmmakers alike. The Deep Blue Sea, however – based on a Terrence Rattigan play (that I confess, I haven’t read) – is about something infinitely more complex. It tells the story of Hester, trapped in an unhappy marriage with a fundamentally good, if passionless and ageing judge, who falls madly in love with a young, charismatic (if slightly thick) aircraft pilot, a veteran of WWII and bursting with charm and energy.
Having not read the play itself, I cannot compare this film adaptation to its source material. What I can say is how impressive a film this is, and even more refreshingly – how cinematic it is. Not once does it feel like a play simply translated into a bloodless film – instead, it is bursting with breathtaking visuals and oodles of passion and atmosphere. Its originality and, more importantly, its honesty, ensure that this never ventures into the realm of the purely cerebral, philosophical but ultimately cold and impersonal piece of cinema that it could have been; a combination of the stunning central performances, revolving around an incredible Rachel Weisz as our protagonist, the luscious period detail, softened colour scheme (giving the whole movie a swooning, nostalgic feel for a previous time and place), the classy, tight direction and a handful of individual, masterful scenes (such as one long tracking shot in the London Underground during the bombing raids of WWII) make this a welcome and apt return for Davies to cinema.
Funnily enough, there is a slight paradox we have to contend with as viewers. Although the cinematography makes sure that we never think of this as anything but a successful arthouse movie, the dialogue sometimes feels a little too perfect and thought through to be believable in some of the most emotional moments in the film. That said, the depths that this film probes – both emotionally and thematically – allow us to forgive and forget this with ferocious speed.
Incidentally, this would make a very interesting double bill with Wuthering Heights, in that both films are essentially about love, but meditate on different aspects of it. If Wuthering Heights explores love as a destructive, primitive force of nature, The Deep Blue Sea probes the problem of how different people fall in love – its causes and its consequences (and, in many ways, our frightening inability to explain it). Most people, in some form or another, experience love of some kind; but what happens when two people in a relationship are torn apart by their inability to come to terms with the fact that they experience love differently?
This is a genuine delight to watch – a truly beautiful, lush, romantic and classy period piece. It is tragic and original – avoiding all clichés and genre conventions whilst maintaining a fundamental humanity (and maturity) when exploring its themes. I had read a brief synopsis of the film before I saw it, and despite the fact that it sounded like thousands of others, it actually unfolds in a far more subtle and unpredictable way than you would expect. Terence Davies has created a perfectly measured, painfully intimate film that really is about love and loss, and doesn’t simply masquerade as one. I can’t wait to find out what he’ll move on to next.
Review by LiveWire Young Film Critic, James Martin (November ’11)