Thursday, August 9, 2012

"The Deep Blue Sea" or Sort of Shallow Gray Creek

     Terence Davies adapted Terence Rattigan’s The Deep Blue Sea and did everything he could to free it from its stage origins by use of flashbacks and opening up scenes that are referred to but not seen in the play.  He cast three of the best current British actors – Rachel Weisz, Tom Hiddleston, and Simon Russell Beale, all of whom acquit themselves beautifully – and has shot it in an elegant, impressionistic manner with a great musical score of pre-existing works.  And it’s so dreary that I felt almost as
depressed as Hester Collyer, the character Weisz plays.  

Hester (Rachel Weisz) Reflecting in Her Room
     It doesn’t work because the script doesn’t work.  As Hester replies to her estranged husband, “this isn’t a tragedy.  That’s too big a word.  It’s sad.”  That line works metaphysically to describe Rattigan’s script and story and accurately defines the word ‘tragedy,’ which is usually misused by the media to describe a disaster.  For instance, Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton are tragic figures, but the 2004 Tsunami was a disaster. Davies shrewdly does not inflate the script, but he’s still left with a very small story that isn’t as important as it was made out to be in the 1950s.  It’s a cracked miniature.  

Hiddleston and Weisz in a Meticulous Set Design
     The production design perfectly mirrors a shabby post World War II bed-sit, right down to the loud, ‘cheery’ wallpaper and the gas fire that requires shillings.  However, as Neil pointed out, Weisz’s hairstyle reflects 1960 more than 1950 because it’s too long and straight.  At times, she’s a dead ringer for Jackie Kennedy in this movie.  There’s a sense of 
Barbara Jefford
repression that’s broken only by Freddie’s (Tom Hiddleston) fits of temper and attempts at humor, Barbara Jefford as Hester’s barbed mother-in-law, and Ann Mitchell as Hester’s landlady Mrs. Elton.  Hester’s problem is that she has nothing to stimulate her intellectually, emotionally, or maternally so she’s hobbled by sloth or, in this story, a doomed and useless love affair.  Both her mother-in-law and Mrs. Elton point this out and both of them are more interesting, though less glamorous, characters.  I don’t mean to sound like some Marxist or New Historicist critic, but why are working class characters always shunted aside in favor of their bland, vanilla pudding employers?

Weisz and Beale
     The final shot shows a Blitz destroyed block with a wrecked tree.  References to the war are strewn throughout the story, but it’s that image which drives home the point that the war emboldened some and devastated other Britons’ spirits.  If only that final shot had been the first shot.  It’s a great period in modern British history and there are other movies that have nailed it.  For an epic vision of the English class system and the war spirit, Joe Wright’s Atonement is a winner.  Neil Jordan’s The End of the Affair tells a more profound version of the impossible love triangle during wartime.  But for the most eccentric class cross-section examination of love (straight, gay, canine), there’s the inimitable and uproarious (and under-seen and under-rated) We Think the World of You, directed by Colin Gregg.

Why did she keep looking out the window?

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