My reason for watching The Deep Blue Sea was Tom Hiddleston. That was it, that was my reason. What I didn’t know was that the film would charm a completely different side of me: the theatre-loving side, the side that swoons at the stylishness of good drama and the frankness and poignancy of it. The Deep Blue Sea is a stage play by Terrence Rattigan and though I did not know much about its background or how it has been performed for theatre over the years, I could still love Terence Davies’ screen adaptation of it for its trim and classy presentation, and its symmetry and brevity that were just so tasteful! Maybe I’m aging fast and so enjoyed it for these merits. Maybe it’s all the flavoured tea I’ve been drinking. Or maybe it’s my literature-appreciation training from school kicking in. But I feel there can be no denying The Deep Blue Sea is a very artistic movie.
The characters are few and they move between just a few predestined places, to bouts of exaggerated music, through stylized frames. And a story is told – rather an abstract one, but one we’re all familiar with. It is a story of personal conflict and love lost. It is a story about making choices. There are heights reached and depths hit, and the music swells or murmurs to accompany these movements. Neat and centralized shots in movies always appeal to me because I can imagine filmmakers like Davies lovingly deliberate over how to present a scene. The colours are faded, the light wintry – like in an old photo album. And like in an old photo album, in which many turbulent stories cling to the backs of the shyly coloured pictures, the emotions running through the film are very loud and very fiery.
To her role as Hester Collyer, Rachel Weisz brings that tragic mix of stubbornness and extreme vulnerability characteristic of a little girl in love. Tom Hiddleston, as Freddie, is garrulous and cheery, and remarkably airy (I confess to numerous replays of his adorably delivered ‘I only did it for the Monet’). The buildup of their romance and its inevitable decline is almost effortlessly conveyed by the actors as they play out these two very differently driven individuals. Davies also adroitly shows what can be very challenging to show visually – the haunting of a mind. Memories keep tumbling out of Hester’s mind, opening windows into a very layered past, which – the viewer is left in no doubt – she has revisited so many times, it has become as played-out and scratchy as the radio music she listens to.
One sequence in the film – a flashback – is particularly beautiful. As we watch a devastated Hester rush down a subway station and pause right by the tracks, clearly struggling against a suicidal impulse, the view shifts and in one, long take we see Londoners huddled inside the same subway, on the tracks and platform, while bombs are heard falling in the distance. One of the refugees starts singing Molly Malone, the lovely, aching, Irish song, and the rest (all of them, the poor, the rich, the soldiers, the guards, the men and the women) chorus ‘Alive, alive, oh’ as dust falls from the subway ceiling to the floor, in sad accompaniment to the bombing outside.
It doesn’t happen every day that I watch a movie simply to gawk at a classy British actor and end up writing a review in the movie’s praise, but I wish it would happen more often.