In this slow-moving but disarmingly deep-diving British film, Rachel Weisz’ character Hester Collyer — married to a staid and solid judge, but lured into an ill-fated love with a scoundrel — is the magnetic center of a tale of confused hearts and lust-blurred fates. It all begins, even during the opening credits, with a suicide attempt, and wends its twining, non-linear way through the back story and onward. Ultimately, The Deep Blue Sea plays something like the tormenting and disruptive nature of obsessive love, reorienting one’s mental state and time-space continuum. For Hester, the cold-hearted cad she has fallen in love with is “the whole of life.” Pity for her.
Beyond the specific merits of the story and dizzy swirl of emotional undertow therein, not to mention Weisz’ potent performance, this intriguing project has other links to British cultural life. The film brings the 1950s play by Terence Rattigan, popular in the UK, to the screen, and in an artistic and freshly empathetic way. Not incidentally, the adaptation comes to life thanks to writer-director Terence Davies, who painted his masterpiece with the hypnotic song-driven meditation Distant Voice, Still Lives. He brings some of the understated cinematic magic of that film to this project, including a mid-way shift into the world of music, which does a lot of Sea’s expressive bidding. Pub denizens break into song and, suddenly, Jo Stafford zooms up in the soundtrack, belting out her marimba-tickled early ‘50s hit “You Belong to Me” as our troubled lovers slowly dance. Davies is a director who fully understands the power of a well-placed song in film, and in a way far subtler than the casual, knee jerk Hollywood pop song placements of the day.
A mesmerizing last, long sequence with the pair on the brink of closure feels like the unexpected centerpiece of a narrative which has taken us to dark and anguished places earlier in the saga. That scene is underscored by a quiet angst and restrained melancholy, full of pregnant pauses and hollow clichés, but also the slow churning of gears angling for at least a provisionally happy ending. There is hope yet in the turbulent heart-sea of life.