Sunday, 4 December 2011

'The Deep Blue Sea' review:

London, a few years after the war, and a desperate woman (Rachel Weisz) is committing suicide, filling her flat with gas after necking a bottle of pills. She is unsuccessful, saved by concerned members of the local community, but in a contrivance of the plot her lover (Tom Hiddleston) soon learns of her attempt and leaves her in a rage. The rest of Terence Davies', by all accounts faithful, adaptation of the Terence Rattigan stage-play is defined by Weisz's pained expression and melodramatic warbling as she regrets that her lover doesn't view her with reciprocal levels of passion. He loves her but, alas, not enough and she just can't take it any more. "Weren't things better during the war?" is the unspoken refrain of the piece.

It is, to put it mildly, a dated story which trivialises suicide and follows a heroine whose problems are very hard to sympathise with - not least of all because Hiddleston's drunken former RAF pilot alternates between being a tedious, war-obsessed bore when ecstatically happy and a volatile, shouty child when upset. It's very difficult to understand why she has "no power to resist him", as she tells her estranged husband - a well meaning but extremely wet judge played by Simon Russell Beale. It also suffers under the weight of its staid fifties-penned script and theatrical origins with Weisz and Hiddleston (actors I'm usually very fond of) going right over the top at every opportunity, often forced to talk in heavy handed metaphor.

Davies, the feted director of 'Of Time and the City', compounds the play's inherent problems by directing the film in an equally lugubrious style, allowing enormous pauses between lines of dialogue amid insufferably long takes. Weisz is driven to kill herself by an intense passion - perhaps too big for the time she is born into - and yet the direction is dispassionate and isolating. The film only truly works during a backflash in which we see Weisz, still with Beale's judge, visiting her bitter old mother-in-law (Barbara Jefford). Perfectly observed, immaculately paced and fizzing with a caustic sense of humour, it only serves as an infuriating reminder of the talents involved.

The biggest problem though is that, whilst 'Brief Encounter' is a brilliant film routed in a specific time and place, doing that sort of old fashioned melodrama in 2011 can't help but read as an unintentional parody - and the film often reads as funny rather than tragic or poignant. It's also hard to shake the feeling that an odd nostalgia for the war era permeates the whole thing, with frequent interludes of perfectly groomed and immaculately dressed people singing gaily together. It's as much a celebration of "the blitz spirit" as anything else, which is jarring given that it's about a suicidal woman. That she mourns the war years to this extent (it's the same grief that's turned her lover to alcoholism - "he's not been happy since the war") is even faintly offensive.

'The Deep Blue Sea' is rated '12A' by the BBFC and is out in the UK now.

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