After 16 days of non-stop cinematic action, the London Film Festival sadly draws to a close with The Deep Blue Sea, the new feature from the wonderful Terence Davies. This year’s festival opened with a Rachel Weisz feature and is closing with one too.
Weisz stars alongside Tom Hiddleston here rather than Jude Law. However, if anyone was expecting a film about a man-eating shark, you may wish to look elsewhere.
The film follows Hester Collyer (Weisz) – the wife of a judge (Simon Russell Beale) who soon finds herself in a destructive and deeply passionate affair with Freddie Page (Hiddleston), a young RAF pilot who has just returned from the war. Davies’ picture is based upon a stage play of the same name and it is clear he has aimed to replicate the style and feel here with the simplicity of sets and camera angles. Although the film is elegantly made, it projects much like a stage production on-screen. This film’s emphasis is on characters and music rather than filmic glitz.
Weisz also played a woman tangled in an affair in the opening film 360 but she gives a much stronger, and by all means franker, performance in Davies’ melodic period drama. Her character is stark and bare, unsettled and hopeless. It must be complicated to manage all these emotions and ideals into one role but Weisz carries the weight and gives a solid and engrossing portrayal. Hiddleston is also sumptuous here and is shaping up into a great talent: he too manages the emotion and psychological burden of his character with ease.
In fact, as a performance piece, The Deep Blue Sea is a triumph and really captures the tone and essence of its heritage but sadly that is also part of the problem. Although the film is brilliantly performed and translated, it can be slightly dull on the eyes. Davies’ filmography has always been crafted around characters, usually in a confined space. In earlier pictures, the limited backdrops and settings feel more characterised because of those who accompany them whilst here, it almost felt like a rolling set behind the stars that quickly change as the lights go down and a scene ends. Other plays translated into films have stuck to their roots and have much stronger and developed narrative focuses, such as the magnificent Doubt (Director John Patrick Shanley, 2008), whilst The Deep Blue Sea does not always have that support.
Fundamentally, the plot is about the affair – everything else is just minor subtext and while this allows room for character growth, it also means that in the spaces between the affair scenes, there is little for the audience to take in, besides the sound of violins becoming increasingly tedious throughout, which is a shame.
It would be unfair to criticise the picture entirely because it is a perfectly decent drama with rich characters and a director who is known for making the best out of very little. This year’s film festival has been brilliant – with the first week being stronger than the second – and The Deep Blue Sea is a worthy closing picture and a recommended watch but it is neither ground-breaking nor extraordinary.