Some directors try to make play adaptations more cinematic by expanding the venue, so that a scene that once took place in a London flat now happens, say, in the middle of Piccadilly Circus. The visuals might be arresting, but the humanity of the scene can be lost.
Terence Davies, the urbane director of stately dramas such as “The House of Mirth” and “Distant Voices, Still Lives,” doesn’t go in for such tricks. In “The Deep Blue Sea,” Davies keeps Terrence Rattigan’s 1952 play about love, infidelity and doubt by keeping the location small — a London flat around 1950 — and making the emotions bigger.
It’s essentially a three-character story. Hester (played by Rachel Weisz) is married to a prominent judge, Sir William Collyer (legendary English stage actor Simon Russell Beale). She’s ready to throw away that life of luxury when she falls in love with Freddie Page (Tom Hiddleston), an RAF pilot during World War II. But, as we learn in Davies’ jagged juxtaposition of flashback and flash-forward, though Hester’s passion may be strong enough to destroy her marriage to William, it can’t sustain her romance with Freddie, who is adrift in post-war England.
Davies burrows into the raw emotions of Rattigan’s drama, employing elegant camera movements and Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto to shattering effect. Even in Davies’ tightly composed shots, there’s some fire — particularly in the movie’s one sex scene, shot from above as the lovers are entwined, clutching each other from desperation as much as passion.
Weisz gives a powerhouse performance, fully exploring Hester’s range of feelings — love, lust, remorse and suicidal depression. She’s beautifully matched by Hiddleston (best known to U.S. audiences as the villainous Loki in “Thor” and “The Avengers”) as the callow Freddie, and by Beale, who conveys the judge’s simmering sense of betrayal and his almost paternal forgiveness of his impetuous wife.
The performances, and Rattigan’s precise writing, make the characters of “The Deep Blue Sea” a rare romantic triangle, in that the sides truly are equilateral, none less sympathetic than the other two.
‘Deep Blue Sea’
A flurry of emotions come out of Terence Davies’ stately adaptation of Terrence Rattigan’s play.
Where • Broadway Centre Cinemas.
When • Opens today.
Rating • R for a scene of sexuality and nudity.
Running time • 98 minutes.