Rachel Weisz is incandescent, even buried in swooning, romantic despair. Maybe that’s why the Oscar winner (for The Constant Gardener) partners up so triumphantly with writer-director Terence Davies in The Deep Blue Sea, a haunting and hypnotic tale of love gone wonderfully right and wrenchingly wrong. Based on Terence Rattigan’s 1952 play about the carnal charge of infidelity fading into the ashes of regret, the film is a striking cinematic tone poem. The British Davies is a one-of-a-kind filmmaker, best known for 1988’s Distant Voices, Still Lives and 1992’s The Long Day Closes – haunting reveries of his working-class childhood in Liverpool – and for his blood-on-the-walls adaptation of the Edith Wharton social satire, The House of Mirth. Never one to press too heavily on plot buttons, Davies takes an impressionistic approach to Rattigan’s play.
Here’s the bare bones: Hester Collyer (Weisz) trashes her marriage to the much older Sir William Collyer (a superbly low-key Simon Russell Beale), an eminent judge, by falling crazy in love with dashing former RAF pilot Freddie Page (Tom Hiddleston). For Hester, the sensual, orgasmic joy she gets just from touching Freddie is an undiscovered country. The world looks different when she is with him, despite his hard drinking and fear of solitude. Hiddleston (Thor, War Horse) is an actor of enormous talent, willing to use his good looks to express a weakness that charm can’t eradicate. His scenes with Weisz are electric. Davies makes much of bomb-devastated London after the war with people singing in pubs (“You Belong To Me”) and cigarette smoke swirling in the air as light cutting through window slats paints its own descriptive tapestry (kudos to cinematographer Florian Hoffmeister). It’s Freddie’s neglect, emerging from disgust with himself as much as with Hester, that leads to her breakdown and attempt at suicide. A lesser actress would play this misery for Oscar-baiting melodrama. Weisz simply digs deeper under Hester’s thin, fragile skin and makes her pain palpable. In the face of Weisz’s magnificence, it’s impossible to dismiss The Deep Blue Sea as dated and creaky. Weisz makes it timeless.