Succumbing to the unexpected throes of love, Hester Collyer (Rachel Weisz) abandons her stable life with High Court judge William (Simon Russell Beale) for Freddie (Tom Hiddleston): a youthful pilot, formerly of the RAF. However, their romance is not easy, as we see his frivolous personality slowly evaporating when faced with her needy disposition.
Establishing itself with an intense, compact opening sequence depicting Hester’s attempted suicide, screenwriter and director Terence Davies immediately washes The Deep Blue Sea in a detailed, melancholy tone which evocatively recreates its 1950’s setting. Then, through hazy memories drawn from Hester’s delicate state of mind, Davies explores the actions and discussions which lead up to this unsettling “accident”.
Davies’ adaptation appears to both be helped and hindered by its link to Terence Rattigan’s source material. There’s little doubt that the overall spirit of the play makes the most of its exhibition on the big screen. The post-war, 1950‘s setting is perfectly encapsulated through Florian Hoffmeister’s fluid, blurry cinematography, James Merifield’s illustrative set designs and reminiscent framework. The faults, however, lie in what seems to be a reluctance to move too far from the story’s theatrical roots. At times, the dialogue-heavy scenes feel too staged and overwrought for the expansive medium of film, hampering not only the fluidity of the actors’ performances, but also their ability to portray the raw, rough emotions that their respective characters are experiencing.
It’s a testament to the three leads – Weisz, Hiddleston and Beale – that The Deep Blue Sea hits such an emotional chord despite its storytelling issues. Weisz, in particular, delivers a rapturous performance as the brittle Hester – a once strong, independent woman who loses her way under the pain of unrequited love. Hiddleston and Beale provide stalwart support as Freddie and William: the catalysts for Hester’s pain, though also potentially the cure.
The Deep Blue Sea represents cinema at its most illustrious and assured: excellent production qualities, a director with an overwhelming eye for the screen, and a performance that utilises the astonishing talents of Rachel Weisz – an undeniably terrific actress – to the full. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the dialogue and storytelling, which don’t quite withstand the transition to the big screen.