Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: Rachel Weisz, Tom Hiddleston, Simon Russell Beale, Jolyon Coy, Karl Johnson, Ann Mitchell, Harry Hadden-Paton, Sarah Kants, Oliver Ford Davies, Barbara Jefford, Mark Tandy, Stuart McLoughlin, Nicolas Amer
Written by: Terence Davies, based on a play by Terence Rattigan
Directed by: Terence Davies
MPAA Rating: R for a scene of sexuality and nudity
Running Time: 98
Date: 09/11/2011
IMDB

The Deep Blue Sea (2012)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

'Sea' Legs

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The English filmmaker Terence Davies is best known for movies set in the past, reflecting memories of life and memories of movies. His feature debut, Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988), was a masterpiece with a unique form. It moved in recollections and snatches of feeling, but shown fully frontal, in tableau, often accompanied by popular songs.

His new movie, The Deep Blue Sea, is likewise great, but in a more traditional, accessible way. It comes from a play by Terence Rattigan that was already filmed once, in 1955, with Vivien Leigh. It's a deeply felt romance, filled with longing and pain, but also with a small victory. Yet, though Davies is paying more attention to plot here, this is still a personal and monumentally artistic achievement.

In post-WWII England, Hester Collyer (Rachel Weisz) is married to a judge (Simon Russell Beale), but has fallen in love with a former Royal Air Force pilot, Freddie Page (Tom Hiddleston) and has embarked upon a passionate affair with him. But Freddie is stuck in the glories of the past and is unsure how to define himself in a country without war. Hester begins to fear that she's losing him, and she attempts suicide. Having failed, she tries to hide this information, but he finds out, leading to the simple and profound ending.

Surprisingly the judge, Sir William, turns up as well, and he's not a villain, or a cuckold, or a third wheel. He's a bit older than Hester, but he's a genuinely good man, and genuinely loves his wife. He's understandably hurt, but that's as far as it goes. He comes to see her and offers his love and support.

Davies takes out the play's talky bits and relies on a potent emotional throughline, balancing the present with flashbacks, as well as canny staging, lighting and cutting. He even includes a very biographical flashback, with Hester and William enduring a London bombing in the subway, with one vocalist mournfully and gorgeously singing an echoing "Molly Malone" as the camera tracks alongside the citizens. (The shot could have been borrowed from Distant Voices, Still Lives.) Another new sequence includes an excruciating visit to Sir William's mother, and her many terse exchanges with Hester. (Davies had a strong relationship with his own mother.)

Finally, a word about Ms. Weisz: to these eyes, she has always worn emotional shields onscreen, playing tough women and very concerned with the reactions of others around her. This is the first time she has shown up unguarded, fragile, and totally open. It's a heartrending, honest performance, and easily her finest hour; I can't imagine there will be many other performances this good all year.

To many viewers, The Deep Blue Sea will seem hopelessly old-fashioned and/or out of date, or perhaps dry, creaky or inert. But I'd rather call it timeless. It's the cinema at its best: highly personal, and recording and releasing the most powerful of emotions.