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The Deep Blue Sea

Updated on February 23, 2020

I had very much looked forward to this latest film featuring Rachel Wiesz, whose last offerings in Agora and The Brothers Bloom were superlative. The official postcards (copied in Picturehouse brochures) make out that The Deep Blue Sea is about the daring of a woman to leave her senior lawman spouse to be with a lover of lesser social status. But the problems come not from escaping her knighted husband in a constricted age but from the affair itself. Yet these issues are not ever made clear and I constantly wondered if something was going to be revealed. Terence Davies has taken lots out from the play which he in the Sight and Sound interview calls boring and unnecessary. But what he leaves us with is largely wordless staring film when we don’t understand what Hester’s problem is – what drives her to that first suicide attempt at the start of the film? What is it about Freddie that she loves? The defiance of society comes into it little - we don’t see much of the rest of it. That the scenes with the mother in law are invented by Davies came as no surprise; they didn’t seem to fit or really show anything. I’ve not seen the play but am intrigued to find out if what is missing in Terence Davies is actually supplied in Terence Rattigan.

I didn’t like the former pilot lover with his Blighty war talk. Even having read an interview with the actor Tom Hiddleston who explains his character’s emotional state – that he can’t cope with not being in the war – I didn’t sympathise. I found Freddie immature and violent and felt him a poor character for his lack of ability to hold a proper conversation and run from his feelings. The husband, William, is more mature in many ways and his willingness to help Hester and woo her back – and get a thoughtful birthday gift showing an intellectual and literary connection – made me wonder why Hester wanted to leave him. I wasn’t convinced that living with him was so dull anyway.

I did appreciate that unlike other films of the visually heavy style (this one with cloying miserable violin music), that there is hope at the end of The Deep Blue Sea. Perhaps William deserved better in a sense – I didn’t fully endorse Hester, even thought she is played by a favourite actress and I am always for emancipated women and challenging social constrictions. Hester is right to go out into the world alone at the end, rather than with either of the men. Davies cuts the play's suggestion of what Hester might do – earn from her painting. Without this artistic hope, we watch Hester - a high class woman who is not used to working - wonder how she will find money. We are meant to be more satisfied with the sale of Freddie’s golf clubs than Terence Davies felt we’d be with that of original paintings as a way of supporting her. By leaving suddenly with only this as an offering for Hester’s future, Freddie’s fecklessness is cemented. Twice Hester is prevented from her suicidal urges and now – when we might think she would be most tempted to – she feels hope in that image of wartime England enduring: the dome of St Paul’s emerging above the rubble of a bombsite. My stars are – one for the presence of Rachel – and two for the cheering message at the end. It has made me revisit the excellent End of the Affair and Revolutionary Road, which I had disliked, in a more favourable light.


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