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The Fashionably Late Review: The Deep Blue Sea

July 27, 2012

The Deep Blue SeaI don’t often like movie adaptations of stage plays. Often they feel a little wrong somehow, as if the 360-degree province of the film is too big for the story it’s trying to tell. Plays are written for the stage, for the fourth wall and the watchful, ever-present audience. When adapted to film, it seems a little off-putting, as if the audience should be part of the story, and without it, the story is a little lacking. The Deep Blue Sea is my one shining exception.

Written for the stage in 1952 by Terence Rattigan and adapted for the screen in 2010 by Terence Davies, The Deep Blue Sea was released in the UK in September 2011, and in the U.S. in March 2012. It earned a little over $1million in American theaters but was nominated for several awards and was critically very well-received. The Deep Blue Sea tells the story of Hester Collyer, wife of a high-profile judge who begins a passionate affair with a former RAF pilot, as her carefully-constructed world slowly falls apart around her. Spoilers below.

The film opens with Hester, played impeccably by Rachel Weisz, attempting suicide in a dingy London apartment. Her neighbors find her and nurse her back to physical, if not mental, health. Hester wanders listlessly around her apartment, smoking one cigarette after another, reliving the events that brought her here. The story is told in flashbacks — Hester with her older husband, the gentle and sweet William Collyer (Simon Russell Beale). Her life is comfortable but lacking, until the day she meets Freddie Page (Tom Hiddleston), a retired RAF pilot. Their affair is passionate and all-consuming, and soon Hester is leaving her husband to be with him. Her husband won’t give her a divorce, but she and Freddie move into a small apartment anyway. Little is shown of her life with Freddie, but it’s apparent that she loves him much more than he loves her.

On the surface this film is about your basic love triangle — bored, middle-class wife, older husband, exciting young lover. But really, this movie is about Hester. She knows her relationship with Freddie is far from perfect and is likely to fail, but to her the idea of going back to a life without passion is unthinkable. She has seen the greener grass and cannot go back to the other side. She would rather choose to live alone, penniless but free to love and be loved as she feels she should. While she blindly jumped off the ledge with Freddie, her eyes are open by the time he leaves her. She no longer harbors any illusions about a happily-ever-after with him, but can’t bring herself to go back to her husband, who would willingly accept her. Hester sees that true love means more than the passion of the moment, but she has made her choice and she will not go back, even if that choice turns out badly in the end.

There is a certain stubbornness in Hester that you have to admire. She has flung herself headlong down a path of lust and recklessness rather than spending her days in idle comfort. But when confronted with the harsh reality of where such lust and recklessness has taken her, she does not turn back. She has made this choice and she will stick with it. To go back to her husband would have been too easy. Once a sparrow is set free from its cage, would it ever choose to go back in?

Rachel Weisz truly carries this film. The dialog is somewhat sparse but her expressions speak volumes. You see a woman failed by the men she has loved, but seeing no other choice, she accepts her fate. The feeling of being trapped, the fear and excitement of a new love, the sinking realization of what is missing, and the final acceptance of the life she has chosen for herself play out across her face like scenes from a film. Actresses less sure of themselves would not have done so much with so little.

The Deep Blue Sea is one of three films Tom Hiddleston released between stints as Loki, the sexy villain in Thor and The Avengers. While the Marvel movies are sure to make him a household name, it’s nice to see him flex his thespian muscles in smaller, more intimate roles such as this. His Freddie Page is suave, charming, beautiful, but also childish, selfish, and a bit of a twat. You see what attracts Hester to him and makes it impossible for her to turn away. By the end you feel a small measure of contempt for this boy that will not become a man, and it’s almost a relief when he finally walks out. Hiddleston’s range here is impressive; when he’s on-screen, he is mesmerizing.

In the end, The Deep Blue Sea is a quiet, unassuming film, telling a small, personal story. There are no universal truths here, no real lessons learned. There is just one woman who made a choice. That choice may not have been easy, or right, but it was hers to make, and she clings to that when everything else falls away.

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