The Deep Blue Sea is an adaptation of Terence Rattigan’s play of the same name, first performed in 1952. Brought to the screen by Terence Davies (Still Voices, Distant Lives; The House of Mirth), it tells the story of Hester Collyer (Rachel Weisz), who, at the beginning of the film closes the curtains of the run-down flat she rents, blocks up the vents, opens the gas in the fireplace and lies down to die.
The Deep Blue Sea then moves into a dreamlike flashback, as we see the circumstances that have led to this suicide attempt. It’s a bravura opening to the film, as we see most of this – almost fifteen minutes – passing without dialogue. Hester, we learn, was married Sir William Collyer (Simon Russell Beale), an older man, and a prominent judge. Their marriage fell apart on William’s discovery of Hester’s affair with Freddie, a pilot, with whom Hester is desperately in love. The shabby flat we see in the first scene is the home they share.
Hester wakes the next morning, her attempt unsuccessful, thanks to the intervention of her neighbours, and from there the film continues intercutting the rest of the day, and the consequences of what she has done, with further flashbacks to events of the past – the breakdown of her marriage and the beginning of her affair.
The Deep Blue Sea’s events take place in a small number of locations and some of the entrances and exits of characters feel a little forced. This perhaps inevitable, given it’s a play adaptation and it’s not really a problem. However, other ‘stagey’ elements are problematic – Tom Hiddleston delivers his lines throughout as if trying to ensure they can be heard by the people at the back. A lot of the dialogue felt contrived and stilted, and while much of it was clever, I never felt like these were real people whose problems I might care about, just conduits created to illustrate the themes under discussion – depression, repression and destructive love. That said, both Rachel Weisz and Simon Russell Beale are excellent, especially Beale as he finds a balance between his anger, sorrow and continuing love for his wife.
Not only did it feel like watching a play rather than a film, at times The Deep Blue Sea didn’t even feel like a particularly good play. We know that Hester is madly in love with Freddie, and that he doesn’t really feel the same about her, but this isn’t apparent in the way the characters interact, we know because she explains as much. And there’s certainly nothing about Freddie to explain why she’s fallen so hard for him – he’s generally either trying to be funny (he’s not funny) or he’s yelling at her. The Deep Blue Sea even has a touching moment when Hester sees her landlady tending to her sick husband, patiently, tenderly. That, we can see, is the real meaning of love – not the passion and the torment of Hester and Freddie’s relationship. But then, in case we hadn’t quite got it, the landlady feels the need to explain that this is what real love is. There’s a lot of ‘telling’ rather than ‘showing’ throughout.
Don’t get me wrong, I like films with little action and lots of talking as much as the next person (probably more actually) and I also don’t have any problems with film adaptations of stage plays – but The Deep Blue Sea to me doesn’t feel like a particularly good example of either. I found it a little boring to be honest, and the themes of the film and the repressed atmosphere of post-war Britain have been explored more interestingly elsewhere.