Terence Davies renders adultery a dull affair in his languid adaptation of Terrence Rattigan’s “The Deep Blue Sea,” a stagey, woefully dated tale about a sexually repressed woman consumed by lust in post-war Britain.
Terence Davies renders adultery a dull affair in his languid adaptation of Terrence Rattigan’s “The Deep Blue Sea,” a stagey, woefully dated tale about a sexually repressed woman consumed by lust in post-war Britain. Her name is Hester, just like the branded “harlot” in “A Scarlett Letter,” and, as played by Rachel Weisz, she’s needy, clingy and about as thrilling as a ride on the Red Line.
It doesn’t help that the first time we see her, Hester is preparing to do herself in by sealing the windows and turning on the gas. And why does she want to end it all? Because her effete lover, a former RAF flyboy played by Tom Hiddleston (“Thor,” “War Horse”), forgot her birthday. Not quite the ideal way to elicit empathy. Nor is the cruel manner Hester treats her much older husband, Collyer (Simon Russell Beale), a loving, caring sweetheart of a guy, but a bit of a fuddy-duddy in the sack. That’s why Hester, selfish to the core, is so quick to go astray once she meets Hiddleston’s Freddie. She can’t get enough of his scrawny body, even though he’s not nearly as enthused as she by their sweaty trysts carried out among the bombed-out ruins of a dodgy London neighborhood.
As you may have gleaned, “Sea” is heavy on metaphor, with Hester’s crumbling life mirroring that of Ol’ Blighty after the blitzkrieg. Like England, Hester once had it all: money, power and social status, but it all came tumbling once Freddie invaded her britches.
Per Davies’ M.O., “Sea” jumps around in time for no particular reason, except for one deeply moving scene in which we see Hester and Collyer, circa 1940, holding each other tight as masses of frightened Londoners huddle in a subway station singing the haunting “Molly Malone” while riding out a German air raid. The rest of these excursions in time pale mightily by comparison, especially when they concern Hester’s flirtations with Freddie, a bit of a smuggish fop whose lightness in his loafers suggests that he might be living in the closet. This is 1950, after all. Perhaps, that’s also why we never see any real sparks between him and the inexplicably smitten Hester. Neither actor comes close to generating the kind of heat Julianne Moore and Dennis Haysbert did in the similar, but infinitely better, “Far From Heaven.” Like Todd Haynes’ 1950s-set melodrama, “Sea” aims to pay homage to the “repressed women” flicks by Douglas Sirk. “Sea” also offers a nod or two to that greatest of adultery movies, “Brief Encounter,” through Hester’s guilt and frustration over having to choose whether to follow her head or her heart. Weisz makes Hester’s dilemma interesting for a while, but even an actress as fine as she can’t begin to mold the character into someone worth carrying about. It also doesn’t help that the male tangents of this stodgy triangle are blander than skim milk.
Like all of Davies’ films, including the terrific “House of Mirth,” “Sea” looks great, particularly in the attention to detail paid in evocatively recreating post-war London. Credit that to director of photography Florian Hoffmeister, whose work is outstanding throughout, including an intensely powerful final shot. Alas, he can’t begin to compensate for a script by Davies that is flat, repetitive and far too shallow for what should have been a deep and roiling “Sea.”
THE DEEP BLUE SEA (R for sexuality and nudity.) Cast includes Rachel Weisz and Tom Hiddleston. Written and directed by Terence Davies. 2.5 stars out of 4.