I should hate you
But I guess I love you
You’ve got me in between
The devil and the deep blue sea

Terence Rattigan’s women always appear to me like figures in Edward Hopper’s atmospheric oil paintings: solitary, sitting alone at some dreary cafe or empty room in silent contemplation. An infinite sadness emanates from them all, a sense of resignation and ‘what was it all for?’ Hester Collyer of Deep Blue Sea is arguably one of Rattigan’s finest heroines, frank in her sexuality and unguarded in her emotion. In the capable hands of the criminally underrated Terence Davies and swathe in Britain’s postwar gloom, it should be all means be a success – well, I should rather switch those lyrics around: I should love you / But I guess I hate you.

The major problem with this film is the adaptation itself. Davies has chosen to do away with minimal characters and focus on the protagonist (Rachel Weisz), her lover (Tom Hiddleston), and her husband (Simon Russell Beale), which would not ordinarily be problematic – successfully executing a film with a few characters alone is impressive, but difficult. Deep Blue Sea doesn’t quite get there, and indeed, seems to be stuck in the limbo of stage performance and delusions of cinematic grandeur. The performances, while solid (particularly from Tom Hiddleston, who is the most adept of them all), never quite escape the sense of being performed in the Criterion or the National. Aside from clear diction, pregnant pauses, and oratory of which John Gielgud would have been proud, the emotional breadth of the thing is somehow lost in its attempt to be true to the play. This is hardly a fault of Rattigan adaptations in general though: consider The Winslow Boy (1999) and The Browning Version (1951), both of which have to be among the greatest stage-to-screen adaptations in cinema. This film is unabashed in its melodrama, replete with an overwhelming score of strings at emotionally pivotal moments, which can be a hit or miss – in this case, it unfortunately falls flat, becoming artificial and inauthentic and consequently rendering any emotional weight as stilted and superfluous.

Not all was a tragedy however. There is a particularly magnificent tracking shot through a Tube station as people seek refuge during the Blitz as a single person sings out  “Molly Malone”, reminiscent of the slightly inferior Atonement (2007). Indeed, music is utilised to great effect in the film, mostly as a patriotic post-war juxtaposition between past struggles and looking forward. The visual palette of the film is likewise highly evocative – soft mahoganies of interiors and muted sunlight from windows drawn with heavy curtains further lend themselves to the emotional and physical isolation felt by Hester.

At its world premiere, the soft-spoken but passionately wry Terence Davies urged the audience to “view it with an open heart” – a refreshing view really, considering the hurried pace at which most films seem to race through to the end. This adaptation pulls no gimmicks or tricks – it is an unhurried, pure exploration of the wayward and wrung-out human heart, and what it will do to keep beating.  Nevertheless, the film’s faults are all too apparent to lovers of the postwar genre (as I), despite all attempts to look away. The lavishly indulgent soft focus and low light are intended to foster an aura of nostalgia, which they fairly do – but much of it becomes suffocated in the perpetual cigarette smoke, obscuring both the pain in Hester’s eyes and the emotional brevity of the film.

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