(Terence Davies, 2011)
Terence Davies seems one of those artists who only truly operates at full capacity when he is intimately, personally connected with his material. His early work, all of it nakedly autobiographical, is where he built his reputation, and is extraordinary. He arrived seemingly fully-formed; a confident style in place, his thematic obsessions obvious straightaway, and Still Voices, Distant Lives and The Long Day Closes are both fully realised and quite masterful in their mining of Davies' own boyhood experiences in Post-War Liverpool. Since then, his feature work - adapting Classic novels for The Neon Bible and The House of Mirth - has been stylish and powerful, in a muted, repressed fashion, but lacking the spark of greatness of his first films.
The same could be said of The Deep Blue Sea. An adaptation of a Terrence Ratigan play, it finds Davies back in his favourite era - "around 1950" - meaning that the period recreation is fastidious, beautiful and just a smidgen enbalmed. While his period films are all located in a precisely detailed world, it is the soulful quality to that world which makes it so warm and distinctive, and that is evident here too, in the impromptu singalongs in cosy pubs and a Tube platform turned Blitz bomb shelter, in the small kindnesses of strangers. Yet the beautifully darkened pallette and the finely arranged set design - all of it making Weisz's red coat seem to glow in the dark - are a trifle suffocating in their perfection.
The story is a study of a dying relationship. Weisz's character is trapped in a polite marriage with an older man (Simon Russell Beale, splendid), a Judge dominated by his spitefully puritan, wealthy mother. When she meets a dashing, emotionally immature ex-RAF pilot named Freddie (Tom Hiddleston) she discovers the pleasures of physical passion for the first time and her life is changed. She leaves her husband and moves in with Freddie but his limitations make them ultimately incompatible, and in the opening scene we see her attempt suicide.
Weisz is tremendous throughout, presenting a complex, intelligent woman, bewitched by sexual rapture and all too aware of how it is ruining her life, perceiving his flaws but not caring, ashamed of herself yet desperate for him still. Hiddleston plays Freddie as a big child, all sunshine and jokes in good times, but throwing tantrums and storming off when it gets difficult.
Though Davies does a good job opening out the play, chopping up the chronology, using a stunning and mostly wordless opening sequence to relay much of the backstory, the fact the the majority of the action occurs in two locations makes it hard to forget the theatrical origins of the piece. That means it's hard to know who is responsible for the slightly chilly emotional tone; Davies or Rattigan. This is a world with a generally calm, stiff upper lip surface, broken by Hester and Freddies passion, but mainly containing it's emotional storm deep within.
Somehow that translates into a film where we watch the characters struggle with strong feelings while feeling little ourselves.
That is a small sin in such a controlled and confident piece of cinema which frequently reaches sublime heights, but it is still a sin.