by Vitor Pinto
15/06/2012 - In 1955, Viviane Leigh shone in a cinematic adaptation of Terence Rattigan's play The Deep Blue Sea. Almost 60 years later, British film director Terence Davies gave Rachel Weisz the same opportunity to showcase her talent in a new adaptation of the story of Hester, a woman from 1950s upper-middle-class London who swaps material stability and a loving husband for a young pilot with whom she discovers carnal love. Weisz accepted the challenge, and here puts on one of the best performances of her career.
Davies, who thus returns to cinema after his acclaimed documentary Of Time and the City [trailer] (2008), has written a free and rather radical adaptation of Rattigan's play. He has chosen to write his screenplay from the perspective of the scandalous and potentially tragic heroine. Weisz, who is present in practically all the film's scenes, thus carries the weight of the film and stands out from her male peers: the newcomer Tom Hiddleston (Midnight in Paris [trailer]) and acting veteran Simon Russell Beale.
The film starts with a prologue reminiscent of The Hours by Stephen Daldry. We can hear Hester's voice offscreen as she writes a suicide letter. Her attempt fails, and the film then structures itself around a series of her memories. It's not a surprising choice, as memory and the past are both recurring themes in the director's work. But from the past one must return to the present, and the present is unbearable because in it dreams of a passionate, blossoming love affair clash with eroded affections.
With the film's strong narrative beginning, the director uses classical music as an additional tragic element. However, as the pathos intensifies, the film's long sequences, most of them uncut, invite the spectator to settle into the lovers' room and share their restless silences with them.
Although it is set in the conservative decade of the 1950s before the sexual revolution, the screenplay does not present Hester as a pioneer of women's emancipation and feminism, but rather as an existentialist character who is able to consciously choose a life different from that dictated by the norms of respectability. But Hester is also a victim of these same choices.
What emerges from all the screenplay's flashbacks is the confrontation of an individual with society. Although Davies chooses intimacy over deep social analysis, The Deep Blue Sea [trailer, film focus] comes across as a subtle and elegant (although still harsh) portrait of an era in which all disgraceful outbursts give rise to punishment. "Beware of passion - it always leads to something ugly," warns Hester's Victorian mother-in-law. But it will be in vain: Hester will ignore all the warnings. This will be both her tragedy and her reason for living.