In the midst of the London Summer Olympics, viewers are inundated with images of British popular culture. Terence Davies’ The Deep Blue Sea, now out on DVD and Blu-ray, pays homage to one of the most classically British films of all time, David Lean’s 1945 Brief Encounter. In The Deep Blue Sea, based on the 1952 play by Terence Rattigan, Davies creates an archetypal melodrama complete with sweeping music cues, tragic situations, and under-the-surface emotions.
Despite its clear postwar visual referencing to Brief Encounter, the relationship in The Deep Blue Sea is not so brief. It is 1952 London, and Hester Collyer (Rachel Weisz) has been living with former RAF pilot Freddie Page (Tom Hiddleston), the man she left her wealthy husband for 10 months ago. She is deeply in love with Freddie, but he doesn’t reciprocate her strong feelings. After he forgets her birthday, Hester attempts suicide and the film then follows the aftermath of that event, while also flashing back to the beginnings of Hester and Freddie’s love affair. Meanwhile, Hester’s husband, Sir William (Simon Russell Beale), arrives in Hester and Freddie’s grubby little flat, concerned about her well-being. He regrets the loss of their relationship and hopes she might return to him. In true melodramatic fashion, the film, as well as the characters and their emotions, build slowly to the inevitable.
Weisz certainly stands out portraying a woman who keeps her emotions bubbling just under the surface. Despite few moments of true passionate outburst, there is never a doubt to what she feels at any given moment. Hiddleston, most recently seen in this summer’s superhero blockbuster The Avengers, proves again that he is a British actor to keep an eye on. His portrayal of the conflicted Freddie, who was more satisfied with his life during wartime than in its aftermath, is both charming and frightening. Perhaps the most surprising performance is by veteran stage and screen actor Beale. William could easily be seen as overbearing or desperate, but Beale brings a dose of sweetness to him that allows one to sympathize.
Davies does a lovely job with the cinematography and staging. He begins and ends the film with a sweeping tracking shot of the exterior of Hester and Freddie’s apartment, where most of the claustrophobic action takes place—a remnant of the film’s stage roots—and subtle reminders of WWII are riddled throughout. The rundown neighborhood street has barely begun to recover from the war, and this is reflected specifically in Freddie, but also in the way Hester is unable to move past her obsession with him. It is almost shocking how little the war is actually discussed, the characters obviously engulfed in their own affairs, but Davies makes it very much a part of the scenery, especially in the flashbacks. One panning shot of people taking shelter in the Aldwych tube station is particularly emotional.
There is something about this kind of melodrama that seems to never truly go out of style, despite that it is slowly paced, purposefully over-dramatic at times, and not much really happens over the course of the story. While the film is not a revelation for the genre, like Todd Haynes’ Far From Heaven back in 2002, it is still nice to see a well-made and well-acted, affective melodrama.