By Clint O’Connor, The Plain Dealer
“The Deep Blue Sea” should have been much better than it is. It features the wonderful Rachel Weisz as a married woman tormented over her affections for her lover, played by the terrific Tom Hiddleston. It’s smart and subtle and nicely evokes its era of postwar Britain.
But ultimately, it does not satisfy. We never quite crack the code of these characters, and their emotional arcs are left floating on the surface, despite the title.
The film is based on the play by Terence Rattigan. Director Terence Davies (“The House of Mirth”) eliminated a lot of superfluous characters and stripped down the story to Hester and her two men, but mostly Hester.
We first meet her at an excruciatingly pivotal moment: attempting suicide. It was done out of anger against Hiddleston’s Freddie, a former World War II pilot who has never quite gotten over the war or his need to drink it away. Hester gave up the life of being Lady Collyer, wife of Sir William (Simon Russell Beale), a prominent judge who kowtows to his ornery mother and refuses to give his wife a divorce.
She and Freddie share a small apartment and struggle to pay the rent. He occasionally looks for a job; she sits around sulking and smoking. Much of “The Deep Blue Sea” is told in fragments of flashbacks, with Hester dreaming or reflecting while standing at the window blowing long exhales of cigarette smoke.
It’s as if she were Bette Davis contemplating some woeful act in between puffs. The film harks back to dramas of the 1940s, such as “Now, Voyager,” “Letter From an Unknown Woman” and David Lean’s “Brief Encounter.” Davies has said that he wanted to pay homage to those films and filmmakers such as Lean. He succeeds, although I could have done without the soaring, overdramatic violins drenching the score.
Hester’s recollections suggest she does not possess the tools to deny her heart. Of the handsome Freddie, she says, “I had no power to resist him.”
Hiddleston’s star is fast rising. He played F. Scott Fitzgerald in Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris,” then the dashing British Cavalry officer in Steven Spielberg’s “War Horse.” He also spent time in Cleveland last summer as part of his semiregular gig of playing the evil Loki, first in “Thor” and next in “Marvel’s The Avengers” (out Friday, May 4).
“The Deep Blue Sea” is an amalgam of Hester’s smoky memories. The story is told by her from the inside out, so we need to trust her point of view. Or not.
By the way, the drama, which lands today at the Cedar Lee Theatre in Cleveland Heights, is rated R for “a scene of sexuality and nudity.” That’s misleading. During one making-love-in-bed moment, all of the so-called naughty bits are cleverly and artistically covered by sheets or nonnaughty body parts. The R seems extreme.