“Beware of passion. It always leads to something ugly.”
Almost fifty years after its publishing, Terence Rattigan‘s play The Deep Blue Sea has made it back to the big screen in an adaptation by writer/director Terence Davies. In a year with two British stage revivals, it only seems fitting that the original 1955 film starring Vivien Leigh would receive an update as well. Dealing with the contrasting concepts of love and lust, it’s a tale of one woman and her desire for passion inside a world quick to deem it antisocial. Why would anyone throw away an aristocratic life as the wife of a judge when she could put the twin beds aside and make a home with someone who will hold her in his arms? At what point can we finally push societal perception to the background of happiness in an age where appearances mean everything?
This is where Hester Collyer (Rachel Weisz) lives—between the rock and a hard place, the devil and the deep blue sea. She’s angry and full of hateful shame in herself for what she has done. A life of insensitivity and an inability to go along with the traditions of etiquette in lieu of joy was too much to bear and yet the replacement’s wealth of warmth and sexual desire hits a similar wall as a result of its lack of compassion. Sir William Collyer (Simon Russell Beale) does and always will love his wife, but life’s need for occupational success and intellectual culture can never let him open his soul. That’s what Freddie Page (Tom Hiddleston) can so easily give—lustful ownership to a body too long left dormant.
But while one gives love and the other satisfies sexual appetite, Hester cannot have both. The decision than becomes discovering which she needs most. The sad truth, however, is how impossible the answer is. We can only become whole through a unique concoction of both—we must be loved and we must be desired. She’s succumbing to this difficult life that combines the memory of what used to be a happy psychology and the present carnal fulfillment of her flesh. She took her chances with Freddie that lust would be enough inside a world so tenuous in peace after World War II threatened to destroy it. She hoped her love could sustain them when his ill-tempered disposition retreated back to the idea he was only good enough to fight.
They were each other’s escape from reality—from her boredom and his lack of purpose. Unfortunately, as we gather from a gorgeously shot opening sequence of suicide trailing off into the fuzzy recollections of happier times, it never could be enough. As is spoken later on in the film, they are lethal for one another and only in separation could they ever hope to survive. This is why he goes golfing for a weekend and why she’s so readily able to fall into despair. Leaving is necessary to keep sexual desire intact and the animalistic physicality of his return proves this point. But when hidden motivations and emotional truth are exposed, reality can no longer be ignored. Sex can only mask feeling until feeling becomes the sole thing able to save us.
The Deep Blue Sea is very much a product of its time and Davies’ decision to keep it set in the 1950s is crucial to its success. Freddie is just back from the war that Hester and William survived on the home front while he anonymously fought for them abroad. There may be resentment towards the judge for not joining the fray, a resentment bolstering the heroism she sees in a soldier’s ever-widening smile. It doesn’t matter, though, after their eyes lock and her wholesome love for William dissipates. She falls for him completely, leaving an easy life behind for potential squalor in a paycheck-to-paycheck existence a block from the bar and a few feet from bombed out quarters. This was the sacrifice she willfully made for the passion she refused to believe was evil.
Davies keeps stage-like directional cues from an over-powering orchestral score to constant fade ins and outs delineating present with past. Memories possess a subdued palette with vignette borders for an ethereal shimmer while the now stays crisp in dark blues and blacks of a rainy night. Candles dance, fireplaces crackle, and the shadows on Weisz’s facial contours help her performance carry the play into the realm of meaty, cinematic glory it strives to achieve. Add in beautiful shots through windowpanes and overheads of writhing naked flesh in bed and it’s a wonder director of photography Florian Hoffmeister has generally been relegated to television work. A long take memory of Brits singing in a subway tunnel’s makeshift bomb shelter is stunning, the flickering light of a passing train on Weisz’s devastating visage recalling it even more so.
Rattigan has given life to the power of love at a time where it’s ability to exist was frowned upon and pushed aside for more ‘important ideals’. It’s said that he wrote it in response to the suicide of a young male actor he had previously engaged in a relationship with, but whether he created Hester as a metaphorical embodiment of him or a wholly feminine voice is moot when watching her played with such heartbreaking emotion. The issues and themes he touches upon are universal to us all—male or female, heterosexual or homosexual. Everyone hopes to find the one person who can give us everything we desire. It’s never too late to start fresh in that search and for Hester to realize this when in the face of character assassination shows how fearlessly strong she is.
 Tom Hiddleston stars as Freddie Page and Rachel Weisz stars as Hester Collyer in Music Box Films’ The Deep Blue Sea (2012)
 Rachel Weisz stars as Hester Collyer in Music Box Films’ The Deep Blue Sea (2012)
 Tom Hiddleston stars as Freddie Page in Music Box Films’ The Deep Blue Sea (2012)