With his dark, somber colours and foreboding cinematographic style echoing the emotional state of his smouldering-at-the-edges heroine, Terence Davies' latest haunting, seething melodrama-cum-subversive post WWII betrayal drama, the director's first feature film in eleven years, is something on par with his earlier works, only perhaps a bit smaller in context - a bit more intimate one might say. Now this is not to say his earlier films (Distant Voices, Still Lives, The Long Day Closes) are not intimate portraits of their respective characters, because they most certainly are, and with The Deep Blue Sea, this intimacy is even more contained in smaller spaces and more personal moments of fear and angst and implied tragedy than the aforementioned earlier films. Let us face facts, this new film is pure Terence Davies, and once again the oh so English auteur has brought his characters into a terrifyingly up close and personal state of being. But then, this is what the director does best.
Written by West End legend Terence Rattigan in 1952, Davies, who has said that it frightened him to adapt a play, has taken this already powerful work and molded it into the epitome of a Terrence Davies film. Taking off from his younger self, Davies' has left the children of his previous films behind and instead focuses on the adults that would have been from the director's parent's generation, those who came of age as war began to spread its evil yet eager wings throughout the bubbling cauldron that was 1940's Europe. Set in 1950, Davies shows us the tragedies not of war itself, for actual physical battles are never shown, but of what war leaves behind in its inevitable wake. Hester, played admirably (and a bit more low key than normal) by Rachel Weisz, is a woman heading toward forty, who finds herself out of love with her older, well-to-do husband, and in essence her staid upper middle class lifestyle, and obsessed with the sexually desirous Freddie, a younger former RAF ace who has been floating lost since the end of the war. Like many of these lost boys - these forgotten men - Freddie has come home from the terror and excitement of war to find a dreary, destitute London, still in financial and emotional shock from The Blitz. It is this thrill of the exuberance of youth that lures Hester in but it is also this longing for a life unlike what he has fallen into that begins to rip asunder Hester's dumb blind love for her Freddie. He is not her knight in shining armour, nor does he have any desire to be such.
Tom Hiddleston, the fine English actor who is currently best known for playing the Asgardian prima donna Loki in Thor and The Avengers, does a smooth, almost too-real-to-be-acting kind of performance as the brash, befuddled Freddie (and I mean that in the most complimentary manner), a performance that may remind some old classic Hollywood heads of someone like Douglas Fairbanks Jr. or even the sadly forgotten David Manners, but this is Hester's story, and therefore it is Weisz's picture. The actress, usually more vocal, hands in a subtle and tragic performance as a woman for whom everything has fallen apart, and while her scenes with Hiddleston are electrified with mislaid passion, her scenes with stage actor Simon Russell Beale as her stoic, yet cuckolded husband, are things of quiet beauty. Beauty between two people who are not out of love with each other, no matter how hard at least one of them tries to hide it. But no matter the performances, in the end, as has been stated more than once here, this is a Terence Davies film - and a disarmingly honest one at that - even with its inherent melodramatic flare. With allusions to the 1950's weepies of Douglas Sirk the director grew up with, as well as David Lean's wartime classic of disillusionment Brief Encounter, Davies goes about his business of building intricate characterizations around the misleadingly simple moments of a landlady handing out mail or a group of frightened Londoners huddled in the shelter of the tube, singing quietly amongst themselves as bombs blare above ground (and this is done with the most elegant of tracking shots). In other words, this is a Terence Davies film - and that is more than enough.