Filmmaker Terence Davies doesn’t work often but when he does it’s always worth paying attention. The British director’s latest film, The Deep Blue Sea, a passionate romantic drama starring Rachel Weisz, Tom Hiddleston and Simon Russell Beale, opens this weekend (Friday, March 23).
The Deep Blue Sea is Davies’ deft adaptation of a popular 1952 drama by English playwright Terence Rattigan (1911-1977). It’s also his first feature film since his critically acclaimed version of Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth, starring Gillian Anderson, in 2000.
This latest film focuses on an upper-class woman, Hester Collyer (Weisz), who early on attempts suicide after realizing that the young lover (rising star Hiddleston) for whom she has left her husband, a judge (Beale), is a feckless pretty boy incapable of loving her as much as she loves him.
If the title and story sound familiar to you, that could be because of the play — or because there was an earlier film adaptation in 1955, directed by Hollywood veteran Anatole Litvak and starring Vivien Leigh, Kenneth More and Eric Portman. Here’s a look at that version though, warning, the video quality is patchy:
Davies’ movie is an emotional cri de coeur, with Hester having given up everything to live in a grimy flat in post-World War II London with her ex-fly boy lover. It also powerfully conveys a sense of the dreariness and depression of post-war England, as the characters cope with a lousy economy, continued rationing, a still bombed-out landscape, and the dawning realization that the once all-powerful Empire has been irrevocably eclipsed.
Davies has said that the movie is about what happens when Hester, despite the conventions and restrictions of the period, is overwhelmed by love and passion and can no longer deny those feelings.
The 66-year-old director told The Guardian that he was puzzled at first as to why the Rattigan Trust, which controls the playwright’s literary estate, approached him with its offer to make a movie about a married woman discovering her mojo.
“I’m gay, I live alone and I’ve been celibate for 30 years,” Davies said.
It wasn’t really that big a stretch. Davies is known for his ability to portray deep feelings with subtlety on screen, no matter the sexual persuasion of the character, and has shown himself skilled at handling period material.
What’s more, Rattigan, who was himself gay, was inspired to write the play after a former lover of his killed himself following the end of an affair. An earlier draft of the play centered on a homosexual couple – at a time when being gay was still illegal and considered shameful – but Rattigan later changed the sex of his primary character into a woman.
Davies’ early films, including a trilogy of shorts (Children, Madonna and Child and Death and Transfiguration), Distant Voices, Still Lives and The Long Day Closes, are largely autobiographical.
His later films include The Neon Bible (1995); The House of Mirth; and Of Time and the City (2008), an exhilarating documentary in which Davies offers a highly personal take on his hometown of Liverpool.