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Tuesday 23 January 2018

Review: The Deep Blue Sea

Rating: * * * *
(15A, limited release)

Paul Whitington

Having been for many years hopelessly out of fashion, wartime British playwright Terence Rattigan has enjoyed something of a posthumous revival in this, his centenary year.

His plays are once again being produced in London, the BBC have turned his works into a series of televised dramas, and now iconic filmmaker Terence Davies has adapted this film from one of Rattigan's later plays.

The Deep Blue Sea was also one of Rattigan's finest and, in this intelligent and nuanced adaptation, Rachel Weisz plays Hester Collyer, a desperate woman in 1940s London who when we first meet her has just attempted suicide.

The principal reason for her unhappiness is her dysfunctional relationship with Freddie Page (Tom Hiddleston), a dashing, semi-alcoholic former RAF pilot for whom Hester has left her husband William (Simon Russell Beale), a noted judge and lord. And in a series of expertly handled flashbacks, we find out why.

William Collyer, a fusty, respectable but hopelessly repressed man, is devoted to Hester but can never find the means to physically express it. He is reserved, emotionally catatonic and in thrall to his mean-spirited beast of a mother, who cordially detests Hester.

Locked in a passionless marriage, Hester is bowled over when she meets the handsome and blithely confident Freddie. Having been willingly seduced, she leaves her husband to move with Freddie into a squalid bedsit, where she pretends to be his wife.

But Freddie is a pig, a flashy, vain, self-absorbed wastrel with the emotional depth of a goldfish. He will make Hester miserable, and reduce her to his level.

Davies is a masterful filmmaker whose previous credits include Distant Voices, Still Lives and his excellent documentary, Of Time and the City.

Instead of sticking slavishly to the play's schema, Davies mixes things up to make the story more cinematic, and wisely dips in and out of Rattigan's natty dialogue, some of which now seems rather forced.

The performances are good, especially the excellent Russell Beale and a commendably grounded Weisz.

Davies' period details are impeccable, although I don't know if they really conducted mass singsongs in 40s London pubs. Whether they did or not, this is a very fine film, and Rattigan would be proud.

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