In love and war,
This review is from: The Deep Blue Sea  [DVD] (DVD)
In a time in which British theatre was crushed and stifled by censorship, Terence Rattigan wrote this play, which shot straight to the heart about love, passion and society. Whilst fellow Terrence- the director Terrence Davies- brings out many of the plays undertones that I feel are lost in the 1955 film version and the 1994 BBC one, he also loses some threads and too heavily insists on the comparisons with Brief Encounter (even though the source play doesn't bear much resemblance).
Davies clearly has a festishistic love for post-war 1950s Britain; the drab and the gloom is lovingly shot. The dinginess means that Davies can pull Brief-Encounter moments, where the adulterous couple Hester (Rachel Weisz) and Freddie (Tom Hiddleston) illicitly steal kisses on the street. I enjoyed the pub songs; in particular a scene that cuts from a pub singing along to a romantic song from that era to Freddie and Hester dancing to a lush record of it. The daze and excitement of the affair is captured nicely.
The sense of a society still recovering from the war and still living off ration books is integral to the play so in that respect Davies is well-suited. However it's the story that gets a bit lost; as does the viewer. In order to escape its stage origins (the play takes place over the course of a night with the action set solely in the living room), Davies uses lots of flashbacks. So whilst in the play, we only find out that Freddie is not Hester's husband, as she has been pretending, but her lover, in the film it's clear from the start. They later include a dramatisation of a scene mentioned in the play, in which their landlady discovers the deception, but it seemed a bit pointless.
This also confuses the thrust of the narrative, which is the charting and comparisons between Hester's relationship with Freddie and with her judge husband, Sir William Collyer (Simon Russell Beale). In the play we know that Hester's affair with Freddie is dead from the start and was probably never alive to begin with (when Collyer asks if Freddie's feelings for her had changed, Hester tellingly replies "They couldn't have. Zero minus zero is still zero"). However the film makes the flashbacks and the present blurred, so we only see a little bit of the end of the affair- even though the story is about how people rebuild their lives after a loss. Beale gets this across most effectively, as Collyer struggles to comprehend Hester's affair but resigns himself to the fact that he has lost her. The problem of the marriage- its sexlessness- is emphasised as being an unsurmountable obstacle by casting Beale as Collyer (in the play Collyer is 45 and Hester is in her mid 30s- not a massive age gap). She loves him and her respectable life but without the intimacy of physical contact, it was never going to work.
Freddie, an ex-fighter pilot, provides the physical side but not the emotional one. Hiddlestone conveys Freddie's love for the good old days of the war and its camaraderie effectively, and also conveys his childishness though not to the extent that he could have. The play suggests that Hester uses Freddie to fill the role of son as well as lover and that the strain of having to be all these things to her is what pushes Freddie to leave. The balance of the film means that the dynamic most frequently shown between them is of Freddie being in charge, whereas Hester is actually dominant, even if her control is slipping away. Though Kenneth More in the 1955 film is a lot less attractive, his character is more nuanced. Like Anna Karenina, Hester's tragedy is the inequality of love; a concept which Freddie doesn't fully comprehend. In some ways Freddie and Collyer are very alike in that they feel Hester wants too much.
Rachel Weisz is well-cast as Hester, though she lacks some of Hester's desparate ruthlessness. In the play Hester is trying to gain her independence; she paints and sells her paintings and refuses to go back to Collyer despite things being essentially over with Freddie. Weisz is too often called to play the weepy lover and takes too readily to it; Hester is not naturally weepy. Her feeling of self-loathing over how she has lost herself over Freddie is clear in the play but not so clear here. There's also a distinct lack of sexual predatoriness here, whereas Hester constantly pesters Freddie in the play and is almost embarrassing. Though the film has every right to differ from the play, losing these nuances in the character means that the play becomes just another love triangle.
Though I love the characters in the play, I think Davies made the right decision to cut nosy neighbours Ann and Phillip, as they are very much theatrical characters. It was odd of him to half leave in the mysterious Dr Miller (Karl Johnson). It is stated that the doctor isn't really a doctor but nothing is ever made of that. Either have the doctor be a generic doctor figure or leave in his intriguing backstory (the doctor proves to be an outcast just like Hester).
I think the film is worth a watch for fans of the play but I don't know if enough of the nuances are captured here for other viewers to appreciate it- even though many of Rattigan's gorgeous lines are left in.