' Cinema Romantico: The Deep Blue Sea

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Deep Blue Sea

As an avid "Atonement" fan I have now and again found myself in conversations with viewers less enamored with the period British film. One complaint often registered is the lack of passion on display in the all-important romance between Keira Knightley's upper class Cecilia and James McAvoy's lower class Robbie. And in a sense their sentiment is correct. There are sparks of passion but only occasionally and briefly. This is because the society in which the characters existed preferred that passion and, in turn, passionate love affairs, especially between differing classes, be buttoned up and closed off. Cecilia and Robbie, to me, clearly had immense passion bubbling below the surface, in particular for one another, and yet felt required to ward it off.


Hester (Rachel Weisz - Oscar nomination, please!), the protagonist of Terence Davies' "The Deep Blue Sea", based on a 1950-written & set Terence Rattigan play, struggles with the same problem, but even more so. Her situation seems to douse any sparks at all. She is married to rich and respected judge, Sir William Collyer, several years her senior. It seems a marriage based, to quote Major Duncan Heyward, on respect and friendship. She wants love. Unbridled, Harlequin-esque love and Collyer, no matter how kind and caring, domineered by a mother who views passion as an incurable disease, is incapable of providing it in the romantic sense of the word.

Thus, she has commenced an affair with Freddy (Tom Hiddleston), a young, brash RAF pilot. They plan to marry when Hester navigates the waters of divorce with Sir William. But is it love? Or simply lust? Or can the two co-exist? Or are they, in fact, intertwined? Or is it neither?

Taking place over the course of one day and indulging in flashbacks often triggered by the billowing smoke of Hester’s cigarettes, it opens with her unsuccessful suicide attempt. There is a bit of rubbish involving a forgotten birthday that triggers her pill-taking but it is clear, and Weisz makes it clear, that this goes beyond one morning. It has been festering. Freddy’s mind is still in the clouds above the Channel. The war may have been horrible but some men don’t seem to know what to do without it. Several times the film permits extended shots of Freddy and his pals in the pub drinking pints and singing songs and the camera always finds Hester looking at her lover and then looking at the others around them. Her smile is forced, attempting to mask a confusion, perhaps even a discomfort. Why is he so jovial here, she seems to wonder, with his lads? Why can’t he direct his enthusiasm toward her, the way she has toward him?


Weisz is exemplary in a most tricky role, cultivating a woman consumed by tenacious emotions that forever are forced to froth below the surface. She practically trembles with what she carries out of sight, as if that cigarette smoke she ceaselessly exhales is an attempt to lighten the load. She makes it clear without showing us that she needs to indulge what she feels because it threatens to overwhelm her if she doesn’t and the time in which she lives doesn’t want her to.

We are fortunate to live in a society where outsized emotions are (mostly) welcome. If Stefani Germanotta wants to re-christen herself, wear a disco-ball bra in public and openly proclaim “I can put a ring on my own f---in’ finger”, she can. She might take flack, sure, because we’ve got more invisible corsets in this day & age than we care to admit, but she can. That’s the thing. Hester can’t. And whether it does today or tomorrow, it’s going to kill her.

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