Terence Davies is a mystery man of British cinema. He works infrequently and his movies seem to be made by a hermit with voluptuous tastes.
Davies’ “Distant Voices, Still Lives” and “The Long Day Closes” are dark-hued memory films about post-WWII Britain, while “The House of Mirth” is a splendid literary adaptation that gave Gillian Anderson her moment of glory.
That film came out in 2000; “The Deep Blue Sea” is Davies’ first nondocumentary feature since then. His stubbornly gloomy, slow-paced style hasn’t changed one bit.
This one is based on a play by the popular mid-century writer Terence Rattigan (“Separate Tables”), and it begins with a suicide attempt by a woman, Hester (Rachel Weisz), in a sad little flat in 1950 England.
Hester is grieving over a breaking heart: Her lover, Freddie (Tom Hiddleston), has grown distant, and she has given up a marriage and a title to run away with him.
That title is Lady Collyer, hers by benefit of marriage to the older Sir William Collyer (Simon Russell Beale). The movie doesn’t stack the deck in favor of its young lovers, for Sir William is a decent, concerned gentleman, if not the man Hester wants.
She walked out of the marriage in search of the powerful desire and connection she felt with Freddie, but his ardor has cooled. Hiddleston, who made a strong impression as a cavalry officer in “War Horse,” does a tricky job of suggesting the toll of Freddie’s war experiences on his ability to stick with Hester.
The entire film is made up of this situation, with flashbacks to fill in the background. Davies directs as though at a standstill, drawing out dialogue scenes with meticulous care and shrouding the images with dark colors and murky light.
The opening 10 minutes unfold almost without dialogue, as Davies sets the mournful tone with Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto and images of Hester quietly attempting to kill herself.
As in “Distant Voices, Still Lives,” there are scenes of people singing in pubs, as though to bolster themselves against grim realities (the streets are still heaped with rubble from German bombs during the war). Sometimes you wonder whether Terence Davies would like to make a movie without any dialogue at all, only songs and music.
With a committed performance by Rachel Weisz, who stays honest even when the dialogue occasionally sounds old-fashioned, “The Deep Blue Sea” becomes an absorbing, nearly claustrophobic experience. Nobody else makes movies the way Terence Davies makes movies, and let’s hope another decade doesn’t go by without a new one from him.
“The Deep Blue Sea” (3 stars)
A dark, meticulous look at the grief of a wife (Rachel Weisz) whose extramarital affair is now cooling in post-WWII Britain. Nobody directs movies quite like Terence Davies (“Distant Voices, Still Lives”), and this one, based on a play by Terence Rattigan, is absorbing in a singular way.
Rated: R for subject matter.
Showing: Seven Gables