TIFF 2011: ‘The Deep Blue Sea’ can’t improve on its source material

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The Deep Blue Sea

Directed by Terence Davies

2011, UK, 98 minutes

Terence Davies introduced* this film by entreating the audience to watch his film “with an open heart”. On the one hand, that’s good advice for any film, or any artwork in general. Expectation or limited foreknowledge can kill your enjoyment of a film. In fact, according to Roger Ebert, Gene Siskel used to shut his eyes and cover his ears during trailers because he didn’t want to spoil the film. Given that the film’s reception has been on the better side of mixed, I’d have to say that Davies may have meant his request as a plea.

Fans of Terence Rattigan’s original play certainly shouldn’t fear a garish adaptation. The original is sensational, and Davies leaves it largely intact. Rattigan’s words are wonderful and any director would be lucky to have them. The dialogue he weaves into his plays is complex, at times subtle, and puts everything just so delicately. That’s all made it into the film. Davies version isn’t dumbed down for export, either—if you don’t understand what is meant by a “milk-in-first sort of person,” that’s a shame.

What’s missing is love. The story of Hester Collyer (Rachel Weisz) plays well on the stage. Her wavering but present attachment to her husband, respectable High Court Judge Rusell Collyer (Simon Russell Beale), and passion for her lover, alcoholic ex-airman Freddie Page (Tom Hiddleston), works on stage. Neither works well in this film. Frankly, I just don’t believe that she would attempt suicide (it’s the inciting incident, not a spoiler) for love of the men in her life, particularly Freddie Page. Hiddleston is so unlikable in the role (and not just in the parts where he’s meant to be unlikeable, in the whole damn thing) that it becomes tempting to think that the wrong character attempted suicide.

The Deep Blue Sea must be one of the few films ever to have something like an overture. As an introduction, Davies gives us a series of dreamlike flashbacks that set up the story, tone, and themes of the film, all set to overbearing classical music that feels an era too late. Though the initial one is the longest, these flashbacks punctuate the film. Some of them work quite well, particularly a scene set in the Tube during the Blitz. That said, the classical score quickly becomes oppressive. When I say that, understand that I sometimes fall asleep to Dvořák and am writing this to Bach. A classical score must work awfully hard to bother me, but The Deep Blue Sea manages it.

A lot of what works has to do with the play itself and the UK’s production values when it comes to costume dramas. People who don’t have the opportunity to see the play (such as those of us in Toronto who must suffer though Paul Gross’ latest train wreck) can make do with the film, but if you have any choice at all, the play’s the thing.

Dave Robson

 

*As an aside, I just want to mention that after Terence Davies introduced the film, he recited Shakespeare’s sonnet fifty-seven. It was such a classy and thoughtful thing to do; no one recites poetry anymore. Truly, Davies is a gentleman and a scholar.

 

The Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 8th to the 18th. Tickets, schedules, and other information can be found on the festival’s website.

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