Terrence Davies’ The Deep Blue Sea Opens In Select Theaters

by: Sawyer J. Lahr

Note: This was reposted with permission from Go Over The Rainbow, you can view the original here.  

“Beware of passion” says the mother-in-law of Hester Collyer (Rachel Weisz, About a Boy) in The Deep Blue Sea, official TIFF selection and BFI London Film Festival closing night film. It’s better to have “guarded enthusiasm,” she says. Hester is a repressed forty-year-old housewife discomfited by her lot in life and Weisz carries her with the air of Mae Clark or Jennifer Jones. Hester leaves her husband William (Simon Russell Beale, My Week With Marilyn, Orlando) after he discovers her affair with Freddie (Tom Hiddleston, Midnight in Paris). Because Williams will not grant her a divorce, Hester and Freddie essentially “live in sin.”

Though Davies is a foremost gay British director, sadly his update of the 1952 Terrence Rattigan play by the same name doesn’t take the extra leap. Why not re-imagine the affair between two men as Rattigan envisioned? The play was originally adapted for the screen by Rattigan and directed by Anitol Litvak in 1955 with star Vivian Leigh as Hester. In this update, Davies elaborates on the reference to the devil and the deep blue sea- an illusion to sailors in the English Navy who worked the lower decks between the sea and their superiors; he swashes the screen in blue and sepia-tone murkiness, lulling us into extended conversations, typical of Rattigan’s style.

The celebrated gay British “playwright of restraint” according to The Guardian‘s Phillip Hensher, was not praised for his homosexual themes or subtext because it rarely surfaced explicitly except in “Variation on a Theme,” a Rattigan play from 1957, which flopped at the box office. The Deep Blue Sea(Twentieth Century Fox) from 1955 is not yet available for home video consumption, but you can vote for its release on TCM’s website. One user-submitted review on TCM.com mentions his father who was a set designer in London where the film was shot. He remembers seeing it in London at the Paramount Plaza Theatre in Piccadilly Circus.

The plot of The Deep Blue Sea is simple but the emotions are complex. The editing by David Charap (editor of queer English film, My Summer of Love) is non-linear as if a person is recalling the affair to memory rather than it newly unfolding. This seems to indicate that the affair is of less moral concern in this adaptation than Hester’s suicidal ideation and depression, which were all but understood in the post-war era especially among women and gays. Terrence said in an interview that “If you didn’t grow up in the 1950s, you have no idea about how very shocking it was for a woman like her to do what she did.” It’s difficult to sense the severity of Hester’s actions in The Deep Blue Sea because much of the script takes place behind closed doors. The doctor who checks on Hester after her attempt tells their mutual landlady Mrs. Elton (Ann Mitchell) that suicide is illegal. Aside from the Mrs. Elton’s obvious horror, the indications of societal shame are discreetly built into Weisz’s performance. Her fear that word will get out shows in her unsteady hand, crippled posture, and taught facial expression. Hester hides in her apartment away from work and the world. She barely sees the light of day and when she is outdoors, it’s always dark.

Acclaimed German cinematographer, Florian Hoffmester (Berlin is in Germany) captures the distinct spirit of a melodrama from 1931 called Waterloo Bridge  directed by James Whale, an American film released before the 1930 Production Code took full effect. Like Davies, Whale was a gay director born in England and both grew up in the aftermath of war, WWI and WWII, respectively. Whale directed a very sympathetic portrait of an out-of-work chorus girl (Mae Clark, Frankenstein) in Waterloo Bridge which shares the shell shocked national consciousness and economic depression that followed in the wake of WII pictured in The Deep Blue Sea.

Davies is the director of a female-centered melodramas like House of Mirth and Neon Bible as well as highly autobiographical films Distant Voices, Still LivesThe Long Day Closes, and an outstanding short film trilogy. His 2008 film Of Time and the City was autobiographical and set against the architecture and city scape of his home town of Liverpool. The film was honored with Best Documentary by New York Film Critics’ Circle in 2009. In Davies’ exceptional documentary, he specifically mentions his homosexuality, which doesn’t rear its head as literally in his other work, but rather enriches his perspective of human suffering which any good director of melodrama acutely understands.

Chicago’s Music Box Theatre will also be presenting a new print of Davies’ 1992 The Long Day Closesfrom March 16-20, a week before the March 30 opening of The Deep Blue Sea at Landmark Century Theatre.

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