27 November 2011

The Deep Blue Sea film review

Based on Terence Rattigan's play of the same name, The Deep Blue Sea explores themes of unrequited love; suicide; and war, both microcosmically between the classes and genders, and macrocosmically between the devastated countries of World War Two after which the central action is set. The film begins with Hester (Rachel Weisz) narrating her suicide note to her boyfriend Freddie (Tom Hiddleston), then blocking up the door to their London apartment and turning on the gas. We cut to Hester first meeting Freddie, then back, and then to Hester with her husband, Sir William (Simon Russell Beale). Her attempt is foiled, and the remainder of the 100-minute film deals with Hester's actions and their repercussions - her affair, her suicide attempts, and those who love her and whom she loves.
I think that narratively The Deep Blue Sea is fatally flawed: the first ten minutes deals in unnecessary flashbacks and flashforwards which disrupt the establishment of both character and place; this narrative device is inconsistent yet pops up from time to time leaving the audience dumb as to when the scene on screen is supposed to be happening. There isn't much jeopardy: the suicide attempt is discovered in the opening scene, Hester ignores William's refusal to consent to a divorce with little repercussion, all of the characters seem to have an amount of respect for one another so there is never any threat of violence, and the company each keep are not exactly 'society folk' whose acquaintance they might lose for their convention-less love triangle. I think that the characters were poor too: Hester is hard to like and I do not understand how her temperament, her spite, her apparent lack of any interests whatsoever are supposed to be attractive. On a more minor character quibble of mine, I do not believe that the landlady Mrs. Elton (Ann Mitchell) would put up with all of these things going on - the suicide attempt, the drunk boyfriend, the infidelity. And finally, why is William a knight? And if he's a 'Sir' then why is he not more concerned for his reputation in entering a society-pooh-poohed divorce procedure (when eventually he does consent)?
Every shot is plagued with a play with focus for no apparent reason. The lights are always blurred as if the filmmakers intended to show that the lights of hope were soured by the flawed people who eclipse them; but really the only effect it had was but a large amount of squinting and a paranoia about the competency of my optician.
Some critics have commented that the film seemed quite 'stage-y'; the variation of locations betrayed this assertion, I think, but there were, in favour of the statement, numerous scenes comprised of very long takes. Even if this was a little theatrical, it worked for the most part - it was just void of interesting content.
Lots of fades were used; lots of shot types tried out; shadows were played with; camera movement varied - it was as if the director Terence Davies had just discovered a book on camera technique and felt compelled to employ as many possible ideas with no consideration as to the effect of them.
The colours in this post-war picture were pixels of mostly brown and ochre, dissected at times by the finger of a cigarette's smoke. This oppressive scheme accentuated the desolate feel of the bankrupt country, yet did nothing for the narrative suffocated already by a drained plot.
Rattigan has been modeled as a 'high society scandals' playwright; "cocktails and laughter, but what happens after" as Noël Coward described his own work, except that The Deep Blue Sea contained no 'laughter' and the 'after' was not at all interesting. I shall not be frequenting films of Rattigan's work after viewing this adaption unless the director puts away his box of tricks quite ineffectual on any flawed and plot-less film.


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