The wife of a British Judge is caught in a self-destructive love affair with a Royal Air Force pilot. (Imdb)
Postwar England has been a recurring and vital setting for Terence Davies. His semi-autobiographical masterpieces Distant Voices, Still Lives and The Long Day Closes, as well as the bulk of his rapturous documentary Of Time and the City, take place largely in the fifties and movingly evoke the hardship and camaraderie of that era.
The Deep Blue Sea is also a product of that age. An adaptation of a famous play by British playwright Terence Rattigan, it features one of the greatest roles for an actress in modern theatre; Peggy Ashcroft, Vivien Leigh, Penelope Keith and Blythe Danner have all taken a swing at it. Joining them now in an impossibly intimate and deeply vulnerable performance is Rachel Weisz. She plays Hester Collyer, the former wife of a high-WASP judge, now the nearly abandoned lover of a drunken former World War II pilot. Emotionally stranded and physically isolated, she attempts suicide to win him back and perhaps also to send a message to her former husband. Her gesture serves only to estrange her more from the men in her life and reality itself.
Davies cleverly strips away many of the play’s supporting characters and expands the film visually and psychologically into Lady Collyer’s dream life. Gently abstracted flashbacks take us into luminous cinematographic landscapes, including a bravura tracking shot through an underground station during the Blitz. But it is the unrelenting focus on Weisz — her face, her pain — in long, masterfully composed takes that draws us inside her utter desperation and the desperation of the British people, struggling to rebuild their society after a calamitous war and the loss of an Empire. –TIFF