A brittle bitterness and forlorn melancholy hang over Terence Davies’ film of Terrence Ratigan’s post-World War II melodrama “The Deep Blue Sea.” A story that begins with a failed suicide attempt and then strains to justify that action for the following 90-plus minutes can’t help but wear a pall, and your ability to embrace it depends on how eager you are to wallow in that.
But it’s a clumsy, dated and stodgy production — ugly to look at, unromantic in the extreme. This isn’t Britain’s “finest hour,” but the five years after the end of World War II. And Davies makes the movie about those years of privation (prolonged rationing) dull, emphasizing the resignation and stripping it of the wistful nostalgia that this version of “Brief Encounter” needs.
Hester (Rachel Weisz) has just tried to kill herself. In the aftermath of that, she wrestles with the fallout from that event, the failed love affair that sparked it and the loveless marriage she abandoned for that affair.
Freddie (Tim Hiddleston) was a Royal Air Force pilot when she met him, a bubbling, manic warrior who thrilled to the blend of excitement and fear that was combat. Now, years later, all he can do is reminisce.
“We were doing something important for dear Ol’ Blighty,” back then, he laments to his omnipresent chum (Harry Hadden-Paton).
Hester is married to a judge many years her senior (Simon Russell Beale), a marriage presented here as an awkward, unpleasant arrangement. Sir William never granted her a divorce, but being a well-to-do mama’s boy, he never gave her much of a reason to stay, either.
After failing to kill herself, Hester is both chastised and nursed to health by her landlady and a neighbor. And as played by Weisz, we can never decide if what she’s remembering in these flashbacks was worth suicide, or if there’s enough for Hester to look forward to that makes another attempt at killing herself out of the question. It’s a dry, staid performance in a film that plays like a still-life in Post-War Brown.
One of the rumors about the play that Ratigan spent years shooting down was that it had gay subtexts that altered the central love triangle that has been the traditional interpretation of the piece. This incarnation muddies those waters all over again by casting actors opposite Weisz who generate neither sexual heat nor romantic fondness. Nothing we can see on the screen bonds her to either man other than the simple necessities of the plot.
Davies doesn’t give us anything for Hester to mourn for. It’s all right to plant the seeds of doom in the flashbacks, but surely we should get a sense of what it was that she got out of this manic-depressive courtship in the first place.
She gives a drained performance that makes for a dreary film, start to finish. And surely that wasn’t Ratigan’s intent.
MPAA Rating: R, for a scene of sexuality and nudity
Cast: Rachel Weisz, Tim Hiddleston, Simon Russell Beale
Credits: Written and directed by Terence Davies, based on the Terrence Ratigan play. A Music Box release.
Running time: 1:38