Those are the words that flash on the screen at the beginning of the new Terence Davies British post-war drama The Deep Blue Sea, and it’s a more telling intro than it might seem. It’s nothing new for a movie to take place in a non-specific year, but how many go out of their way to say so? It was the first sign that you’re about to see a film where “exactness” would not be a major player.
Rachel Weisz plays Hester Collyer, a woman living under a fake identity because she’s estranged from her husband, a prominent judge. The film opens with Hester’s attempted suicide, and then simultaneously works backwards and forwards from that point to explore where her unhappiness derives from, as well as the fall-out from her attempt. The big mitigating factor is that Hester is madly in love with Freddie, an alcoholic veteran of the British Royal Air Force played by Tom Hiddleston, who you’ll be seeing as the villainous Loki in this summer’s The Avengers. (Actually, forget I mentioned this. There are probably only 25 people on the planet that will see both this and The Avengers, and they’re all film critics. That being the case, it’s far more likely you know Tom Hiddleston for playing F. Scott Fitzgerald in Midnight in Paris.) But I digress. The big problem is that Freddie doesn’t care about Hester nearly as much as she cares about him. In fact, Freddie’s love for Hester isn’t much more than occasional lust, while Hester’s love for him borders on unhealthy obsession. Such is the stuff that successful relationships are seldom borne from.
Davies is probably best known for The House of Mirth (2000), but that was a bit of an anomaly in a career that has mostly stuck with post-war British class dramas. He does the same here, and Deep Blue Sea is filled with his usual combination of top-notch acting, composition, and score. But everything else about the film just feels empty. We spend an hour and a half watching Hester pine over a relationship that we’re given no reason to root for. To Weisz’s credit, her acting nearly pulls it off. And the dialogue, adapted from the play by Terence Rattigan, sells her pain with the appropriate amount of emotional gravitas. But at the end of the day, there’s little else going on here than Hester’s longing, and it’s a longing that the viewer can never fully relate to because it seems so unwarranted. The film’s title refers to the idiom “between the devil and the deep blue sea,” which is used to describe the choice between two undesirable situations. That works fine, but the title could just as easily have been The Stuffy British Drunkard is Just Not That Into You.
The Grade: C