When I was 18 years old, I felt compelled to go watch Terence Davies' first feature, Distant Voices, Still Lives, on the basis of one incredible slow-motion shot that I saw on TV. I was disappointed that the rest of the film was not nearly so visually unique, and found the whole thing artful but rather miserable. I have avoided the director's subsequent work until good reviews for The Deep Blue Sea convinced me to give him another chance. After all, I was just a teenager back then. Now that I'm in my 40s, maybe his work might connect with me more. So all right, the film opens with Rachel Weisz's character attempting suicide. Nice to see that Mr. Davies hasn't lost his touch!
Adapted from Terence Rattigan's 1952 play, The Deep Blue Sea takes us to London "around 1950", which is familiar territory for Davies. Although the dialogue is thankfully neither wall-to-wall nor stagy, much of the story unfolds within a couple of locations over the course of a 24-hour period, betraying the story's roots, as Weisz looks back on her comfortable if joyless marriage to a much older man, and how she left it to embark on a new life with a handsome, mercurial RAF pilot (Tom Hiddleston).
The issue I have with The Deep Blue Sea is that its story hinges on Hiddleston's indifference to Weisz's adoration, and how this imbalance in their affair drives the poor woman to the brink of death. First of all, if you're going to pretend that one could shrug off the advances of the impossibly gorgeous and classy Rachel Weisz, your audience is going to need a lot of convincing. And while Weisz's performance is sensational, there seems nothing particularly clingy or annoying about her character, and so we turn to Hiddleston to see why he could possibly not love her. Hiddleston's performance, while often shouty, does not shed light on his character's side of things, and so their complicated relationship fails to carry the true ring of authenticity.
I didn't dislike the film. There are some moments of tenderness and beauty, and Weisz alone makes it worth seeing. But otherwise I am sad to report that, 24 years down the line, Davies' work still does not engage me.