CRITICALLY SPEAKING: The Deep Blue Sea (12a) by Graham Chalmers

The Deep Blue Sea.
The Deep Blue Sea.

WHEN everything is permitted, drama becomes redundant, which makes watching director Terence Davies’s movie adaptation of Terence Rattigan’s complex romantic drama something of an act of nostalgia for a time when very little was allowed.

The Deep Blue Sea is very much Davies’s film, just as the recent adaptation of Wuthering Heights belonged very much to its director, Andrea Arnold.

Davies is anything but a lightweight and The Deep Blue Sea is clearly a work of artistic quality way beyond most other movies currently on release. The bigger question is, as it was with Wuthering Heights, to what ultimate purpose.

Previously shot in 1955 with Vivien Leigh and Kenneth More, the basic story remains the same - a romantic triangle circa 1950, with a beautiful young wife, Lady Hester Collyer (Rachel Weisz), walking out of a sexless marriage with her dutiful but dull husband Sir William Collyer (Simon Russell Beale) in favour of the irresistible but irresponsible ex-RAF pilot Freddie Page (Tom Hiddleston).

In his best films such as The Long Day Closes, Davies specialises in making the most from the least, wringing heavy-duty pathos from slimline narratives.

Rattigan’s actual script, co-adapted by the director himself with some new scenes, gains little from this approach, as Davies maintains his trademark intensity, even in moments where none is required.

Which ultimately makes the latest version of The Deep Blue Sea a flawed adaptation but a hypnotic and deeply moving piece of filmmaking.

There are some minor problems with the casting of Weisz as the semi-suicidal Lady Hester when it comes to the dialogue, though her facial reactions are truly heart-wrenching, and Russell Beale is an absolute revelation, stealing almost every scene he is in.

In Davies’s hands, Rattigan’s intimate examination of the nature of passion is opened out with pub singalongs and visual homages to a smoky London still recovering from the war.

It’s a testimony to the enduring brilliance of Davies’ cinematic powers that in turning such a ‘small’ drama into a broader hymn to a long-gone Britain, the end result is more affecting, not less.