DVD Review: ‘The Deep Blue Sea’

Stage-to-screen adaptations represent notoriously treacherous cinematic waters regardless of reputation and critical acclaim, having scuppered the career of many a fine director. 2011 British feature The Deep Blue Sea is the tale of two Terences – Rattigan and Davies – the former being the writer of the original 1952 stage play, the latter the Liverpudlian filmmaker charged with adapting Rattigan’s production to the big screen. Starring Rachel Weisz, rising star Tom Hiddleston and stage thesp Simon Russell Beale, Davies has certainly assembled a high calibre of screen performer, yet at times his film feels excessively anchored to its theatrical origins.

Academy Award winner Weisz plays tragic heroine Hester Collyer, a well-educated, well-to-do type who leads a privileged life in 1950s London as the wife of high court judge Sir William ‘Bill’ Collyer (Beale). Early on in the narrative, Hester walks out on her lucrative marriage to move in with young ex-RAF pilot, Freddie Page (Hiddleston), with whom she has fallen passionately in love. However, it soon becomes clear that Freddie may not be capable of reciprocating Hester’s lustful infatuation, leading to her ultimate descent into despair and potentially life-threatening melancholy.

First off, it’s worth pointing out that Davies’ long awaited return to directing (his first film since 2008 Liverpool-centric documentary Of Time and the City) isn’t simply a re-hash of David Lean’s 1945 classic Brief Encounter, despite its passing narrative resemblances. Unquestionably, The Deep Blue Sea is the inferior work, unlikely to sustain anywhere near the aforementioned film’s timeless quality and also lacking its sense of cinematic scope and grandeur. Yet there is certainly much to admire in Davies’ melodrama, with Weisz in particular giving the performance of her career as the hopelessly love-starved Hester.

For some, the 50s Chumley Warner-esque accents may take a bit of time to bed in fully – Freddie’s recycled use of apparent term of endearment ‘Old fruit’ is swiftly revealed as nothing than part of a façade to cover for his own insecurities – and despite the prominence of Hester’s law-abiding husband, there is relatively little backstory to the on-screen events, minus the odd reference to rationing. One scene in particular, which depicts Hester and Bill cowering on the tracks of an underground station during the German Blitzkrieg, feels tagged on and severely out of place.

Far more successful is Davies’ evocation of Hester’s internal dissolution through sound and vision, with relative industry newcomer Florian Hoffmeister excelling as Davies’ chosen cinematographer. Whilst feeling a little restricted by the ghost of its stage roots, The Deep Blue Sea remains – in balance – a successful, if unspectacular film transfer of Rattigan’s much-lauded play, with Weisz’ standout turn unarguably the jewel in the crown.

Daniel Green

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