It tells the tale of Max Morden, a recently widowed art historian who returns to the seaside location of his childhood holidays. Here as an only child he escaped the monotony of his parent’s company by befriending the well-off and carefree Grace family, made up of a cringe-inducing buffoon of a father, a beautiful but silly mother, and boy and girl twins, of whom the former is mute. They are also accompanied by pained au pair Rose. Morden’s reason for returning is to finally confront the haunting memory of a tragedy that occurred on one of those supposedly idyllic summer afternoons.
A fragmented reminiscence from childhood – secret sexual liaisons, the constant lingering presence of the past and its literary origins all make The Sea instantly comparable to 2007’s Oscar-winning Atonement. Yet, while the latter poignantly explored its themes of mortality and reparation and proved to be an instant hit, The Sea by contrast is lacking. Despite being beautifully shot – in particular the flashback scenes of technicolour, which yearn for a simpler time of penny sweets and multicoloured wind breakers like a polished Martin Parr photograph, and which serve to enhance the considerably dark subject matter – the plot comes off as a little confusing and rather dull.
Undoubtedly the film will appeal more to those who have read the novel, which perhaps will provide the necessary clues to the constant implication and subtext hinted at throughout the film, but which is never explicit enough to interpret on its own. For instance, Banville (who adapted the work for the screen himself) explains that the unrequited love that Morden has for the young twin, Chloe, is a “key element of the story”, yet in the film this is unclearly conveyed.
Amid this sea of wishy-washy suggestion, certain revelations are clumsily dropped like heavy anchors, which make their inclusion come off as somewhat gratuitous. Despite a strong performance by lead Ciarán Hinds, the film’s ending is to some extent cheesy and a little underwhelming. However, its good points do provide an enticing advert for the novel itself, which seems a most appealing read.
The Sea is released nationwide on 28th April 2014.
Watch the trailer for The Sea here: