Titled after the predicament the main character finds herself in – between the Devil and the deep blue sea – Terence Davies’ directorial piece tells the story of Hester Collyer (Rachel Weisz), a beautiful young woman living in post-war England whose life has been all but destroyed by love. The estranged wife of a High Court judge (Simon Russell Beale), Hester has escaped a passionless marriage and has in turn discovered the passion she so desperately seeks in the form of former RAF pilot Freddie Page (Tom Hiddleston). But in giving herself completely to a man who can’t give the same in return, Hester begins on a journey of self-destruction, culminating in the single day during which the majority of the film takes place – the day she attempts suicide.
Upon watching the trailer, the film seemed vastly promising: passion intertwined with drama and an ideal balance between the two. However, it didn’t take long into my watching of the film to realise that this wasn’t the case. To be honest, I neither found much passion nor much drama in this film that claims to offer so much of both. After a slow start, it never really finds its pace. The film gains momentum in the middle during the start of the affair and its effects on Hester’s life, but that momentum is too short-lived to be substantial, and it soon trails off into a slow expectancy, which stays unaltered for the remainder of the movie. I found myself open to distraction on several occasions, which to me is indicative of a distinct lack of engaging drama.
Despite this, it isn’t the issue of drama (or lack thereof) that I found to be the film’s biggest flaw. After all, endless action is absolutely not necessary for a great picture. What is necessary is to be emotionally affected, to really grasp a film’s purpose, and even if that purpose is not understood, to feel something from it. The Deep Blue Sea is supposed to be about a lust that defies all else, about passion. Sadly, the subject matter is there, but the feeling just isn’t. It was as if I was watching the events through the wrong end of a telescope, objective and completely detached. Take the relationship between Hester and Freddie; we are constantly told that this is, without exception, the most passion this young woman has ever felt for any one person. But that’s just it – we’re told, not shown. The dialogue isn’t believable when there aren’t the visuals to support it. The one instance where this kind of relationship is conveyed is situated at the beginning of the film, and confusion as to what is happening clouds over naked limbs and strewn sheets.
In the film’s defence, it doesn’t fall victim to this failure in every instance, and in the case of the relationship between Hester and her stepmother it is executed perfectly. Portrayed through two very simple scenes, the woman’s disdain and disappointment in her daughter-in-law is uncomfortably evident. Albeit awkward and clipped, the dialogue is quite innocent. It is the telltale visuals; the positioning of the characters and the portrayal of them that really set these scenes alight.
On the whole, the acting performances are strong. Hiddleston is particularly impressive, depicting the complexities of a war-troubled young man with excellence. But this makes the film all the more disappointing. Don’t get me wrong, each performance has passion, each character is passionate. The issue is that the story isn’t strong enough, and as a result this passion loses its direction. We can’t connect with the characters, and therefore feel no connection to the film as a whole.
Overall, the one word I’m left with is ‘okay’. Although it’s certainly not one to be avoided altogether, it’s a film that in my opinion just didn’t deliver in the way I’d expected.