Stupefyingly boring, horribly dated, relentlessly depressing and badly lit, this tiresomely stuffy slog is a litmus test for critics. The honest ones will admit to yawning and checking their watches throughout this stodgy post-World War II period piece. The rest are the sort who claimed to enjoy The Tree of Life.
Adapted by director/screenwriter Terence Davies from the 1952 Terence Rattigan play, The Deep Blue Sea stars the porcelain-skinned lovely Rachel Weisz as Hester Collyer, a suicidal and passive aggressive doormat. She’s in the process of leaving a “this time I really do want to die” note on the mantel and turning on the gas when we first meet her in a dismal second-floor London flat.
She doesn’t succeed at doing herself in, and much of the movie consists of flashbacks explaining why she tried. Unfortunately, those motivations are based on such musty melodramatics that the piece plays like a humorless parody.
We learn that her wealthy, considerably older and conservatively dignified husband, High Court judge Lord William Collyer (Simon Russell Beale), was too timidly deferential to his Hester-baiting mother (Barbara Jefford). “Beware of passion, Hester,” the nasty old biddy foreshadowingly warns in a tense discussion of tennis. “It always leads to something ugly. Replace it with guarded enthusiasm.”
Ignoring that metaphorical advice, Hester begins an adulterous affair with dashing former Royal Air Force pilot Freddie Page (Tom Hiddleston, last seen in War Horse and as the villain Loki in Thor). Freddie’s pub banter consists of lines like “I survived the Battle of Britain, old fruit,” and “I really think you’re the most attractive girl I’ve met.” What woman could resist?
After indiscreetly allowing hubby to overhear her on the phone with her flyboy, the still-married Hester moves in with Freddie, pretending to be his wife. Her considerably reduced circumstances with him are made worse by Freddie’s inconsideration and alcoholism. Hester’s breaking point comes when Freddie forgets her birthday while he’s away golfing. The cad!
The movie has so many still-life stretches of Hester very meaningfully smoking cigarettes that it should come with a surgeon general’s warning. Director Davies also is agonizingly unsubtle about keeping mousy and miserable Hester so deep in the shadows that she all but disappears.
Freddie reacts to Hester’s suicide attempt with such shocking cruelty that it’s impossible to believe a woman with Hester’s intelligence, breeding and beauty would want anything more to do with him. Yet still she clings, all but throwing herself at his feet. She even cleans his shoes!
The actors are so much better than the mopey material here that it’s a shame to see them wasted in this dawdling soap-operatic remake. (A 1955 film adaptation starred Vivien Leigh.) Weisz is good at looking blankly haunted, Hiddleston is a right bastard and the forgivingly devoted Beale is tragically noble, but they seem to exist in an airless and anachronistic void.
Jeeves, fetch the smelling salts!
[Rating: 1.5 stars]
The Deep Blue Sea was released in the UK on November 25, 2011. USA and Canada released date is tomorrow, March 23, 2012. Australia’s release date is April 12 2012.