Rachel Weisz stars in a tragedy of romantic cul-de-sacs
This is Terence Davies’ first drama since The House of Mirth in 2000. It’s an adaptation of Terence Rattigan’s 1952 play about a middle-class woman, Hester (Rachel Weisz), who tries and fails to commit suicide in a London flat after leaving her kind but unpassionate husband, William (Simon Russell Beale), and being rejected by her volatile lover, ex-RAF pilot Freddie (Tom Hiddleston, also pictured). It’s a tragedy of romantic cul-de-sacs and a haunting exploration of the emotional glass ceiling that hung above many in 1950s Britain. It also harks back to Davies’s Distant Voices, Still Lives and The Long Day Closes in its jigsaw approach to time, sensitivity to the sights and sounds of post-war Britain and eye for domestic tragedy. There is a hint, too, of the 1940s and ’50s British cinema that so inspires Davies and one scene has Weisz channelling Celia Johnson’s railway-platform moment in Brief Encounter.
Davies opens out Rattigan’s play beyond Hester’s fading flat and has written a superb scene which features Hester and William taking tea with his mother. "Will you be going to Wimbledon this year, mother?" asks William – a judge at work but a mouse in her presence – not long before mother shoots at Hester: "Oh, you’ve put the milk in first!" Pauses and absences hang horribly in the air.
Performances are strong: Russell Beale is excellent as William and Hiddleston convinces as infantile Freddie, a man reliving the war in his head. Weisz is good at conveying how Hester struggles in social situations, especially at pub and tube-platform sing-songs when Davies’s operatic side comes into play. Yet there’s something about The Deep Blue Sea that feels studied and precious, a knock-on, perhaps, of the formality and emptiness of the relationships at its heart. It’s sad as a story and deeply evocative as a period piece, but it fails to take a grip on the heart in the same way that the very best of Davies’ films do.