Stage adaptation feels well staged

Deep Blue Sea falters even with strong performances

While there is something to be said for sticking to the source material the adaptation of Terence Rattigan’s 1952 play The Deep Blue Sea feels at times too faithful. Strong performances and earnest dialogue suffer due to pacing and the direction seems better suited for the stage than the screen. However the film does have its strengths and director Terence Davies creates yet another aesthetically pleasing look at post-war Britain. While the main character has her faults Rachel Weisz gets the opportunity to treat viewers to what would surely be an incredibly strong stage performance.

Weisz as Hester is a damaged woman partially due to both her own actions and society’s conventions. Married to a much older judge Sir William Collyer (Simon Russell Beale) her life is restrained and their relationship affectionate but lacking in passion. How she found herself married to the reserved and mousey fellow is initially a mystery though a series of flashbacks provide some insight.

As an intelligent and beautiful young woman it should come as no surprise to William that she might find another love interest but of course blinded by his love for her he is wounded upon the discovery of her affair and cuts her off. Hester falls obsessively in love with William’s friend Freddie (Tom Hiddleston) a much younger man and a former RAF pilot who as Hester says stopped living in 1940. The war was the height of Freddie’s life and his constant nostalgia for the thrilling time fills Hester with the excitement and passion missing in her marriage. When he speaks of the war you get the sense that nothing since will measure up.

Hester falls dramatically and obsessively in love acknowledging that she demands more than Freddie will return. Despite his harshness towards her it is hard to fault Freddie or consider him a villain. Similarly it is hard to think of William as a sap. Whether dealing with William Freddie her landlady or doctor Hester is consistently self-absorbed often speaking of herself as a martyr. Perhaps it is hard to sympathize with her because the dialogue is so deliberate and Davies’ timing so slow and pronounced. Whether it’s the character or the way she is presented Hester becomes the least sympathetic person in her own story.

Though her character is frustrating to watch Weisz conveys Hester as appropriately fragile and lost. Hiddleston is convincing as a young man full of life while unsettlingly attached to his memories of the war. Beale delivers a subtle performance — a scene in which he realizes Hester is doomed and he is unloved is especially strong. Despite their committed performances and the sharp dialogue the pacing makes the film feel too slow earnest and melodramatic. Fans of Davies’ work (especially Distant Voice Still Lives ) will enjoy his characteristic fluid long takes and attention to period detail. It’s a shame that despite the beautiful cinematography and strong performances the film feels so staged and deliberate.