British director Terence Davies' long-awaited return to fiction film-making after a ten-year-plus absence (interrupted only by the lovely essay-documentary Of Time and the City) plays somewhat like a concentrated essence of his recurrent themes and forms. A period piece set in post-WWII Britain, The Deep Blue Sea layers a swooningly melancholy tonal atmosphere over a precise evocation of the lone individual lost in a society that demands that he conform, somewhere between a rueful lament for lost opportunities and a curdled sense of nostalgia.

     It's not certain that Terence Rattigan's original stage play told the story of a modern woman railing against the fusty conventions that constrain her, while posing in the perfectly poised outward respect of said conventions  - but that is indeed the line that Mr. Davies' adaptation of the play takes. Hester Collyer (a pitch-perfect, barely quavering Rachel Weisz in a superbly controlled performance) will not stoop to play the pre-ordained part of the well-mannered wife of a knighted judge (Simon Russell Beale). She wants something else: the passion that will sweep her off her feet into feeling a living, loving, complete woman - even if to do it she will contradictorily stoop to play another pre-ordained part, that of the fool-for-love adulteress who will throw everything away to pursue the dashing former RAF pilot (Tom Hiddleston) who hasn't been able to move on from those glory days.

     What follows, shot as a quasi-symphonic reverie both elegiac and life-affirming at once, is a tale of people who can't let go of their past but cannot fully be in their present, lost in a limbo from where they hope against hope that love will deliver them. Mr. Davies' aesthetic eye for the period is perfectly complemented by the work of production designer James Merifield and cinematographer Florian Hoffmeister, the diffuse tones of dull lighting, musty wallpaper and cigarette smoke soundtracked to perfection by Samuel Barber's wondrously lyrical violin concerto. It's true that, at times, one feels the director is getting lost in his own aesthetics and drifting dangerously close to self-parody, before regaining composure with that peculiarly British restraint that he has perfected, the refusal to sentimentalize for the sake of sentiment that is the hallmark of the finest English filmmaking. Also, the occasional moment of lush romanticism makes me think Wong Kar-wai may owe an unspoken debt - or at the very least have an unspoken kinship - with Mr. Davies.

     But the director is so in command of his material and so in tune with the actors that you quickly forget The Deep Blue Sea was originally a stage play and that the film is set almost entirely indoors with only three main speaking parts (all of which outstandingly performed). This, Mr. Davies seems to be saying, is how you take material that was supposedly of its time to make a film that is gloriously out of time, as much as Hester was a woman out of tune with her time, yearning for a freer life than what society allowed her.

Cast: Rachel Weisz, Tom Hiddleston, Simon Russell Beale
Director: Terence Davies
Screenplay: Mr. Davies, from the play by Terence Rattigan, The Deep Blue Sea
Cinematography: Florian Hoffmeister  (colour)
Designer: James Merifield
Costumes: Ruth Myers
Editor: David Charap
Producers: Sean O'Connor, Kate Ogborn  (The UK Film Council, Filmfour, Camberwell Films and Fly Films in association with Protagonist Pictures, Lipsync Productions and Artificial Eye)
United Kingdom, 2011, 98 minutes

Screened: distributor advance press screening, Zon Lusomundo Alvaláxia 1 (Lisbon), March 19th 2013


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