The Deep Blue Sea
Directed by Terence Davies
Terence Rattigan’s play The Deep Blue Sea has traditionally been a vehicle for an actress somewhat deep into middle age. Peggy Ashcroft had an enormous success with it on the London stage, and Margaret Sullavan broke hearts when she did it on Broadway. I saw it revived by the Roundabout over ten years ago with Blythe Danner, and I can still remember her hoarse cries when she begged her lover not to leave her at the end of the second act. As a text, it is a somewhat threadbare example of gay repression masquerading as suffering woman melodrama, and it would seem to be ideal material for Terence Davies, whose own dramatization of gay repression in his films has been close to Rattigan’s but much bolder and more emotionally draining. Certainly he has improved on the stillborn 1955 film version with a sleepwalking Vivien Leigh, but this Davies movie often founders on the miscasting of the lead role with forceful Rachel Weisz, who at 40 looks at least ten years younger, and the limitations of the play itself.
Yet when Davies is able to get away from the bed-sitting room Rattigan chat, he creates some of his most lushly romantic emotional spirals upward set to popular music, none more ecstatic than when Weisz’s Hester falls even more deeply in love with her lover (Tom Hiddleston) while Jo Stafford’s “You Belong to Me” plays on the soundtrack. The fatal reticence in Rattigan’s conception plus the overall uncertainty of Weisz and Hiddleston fall away when Stafford sings the line, “See the jungle when it’s wet with rain” as the lovers dance. During this sequence set in a bar, the sexual connection between the couple takes on an almost obscene force that might have startled but also pleased Rattigan. The Deep Blue Sea is an uneven film that still makes for essential viewing for Davies’s masterly use of music, which says what cannot be said in polite non-musical talk.
Opens March 23