The Deep Blue Sea seems to come out of the gate at fever-pitch with a booming score and sweeping crane shot, both foreshadowing the sheer heights of emotion this story will eventually reach.
As a browning postcard of wartime Britain it is hopelessly romantic. Director Terence Davies grew up in this period and his rendering of it feels like less of a gritty document than a fond, half-remembered photograph. This is a movie that shimmers, looks shot through a veil-like gauze and basks its images in blotches of candlelight and warms the faces of its actors beside fireplaces. It’s poetic, inked in heartache; appropriate given that Davies is one of Britain’s finest cine-poets. Concerning the forbidden romance between a married woman (Rachel Weisz) and an RAF pilot (Tom Hiddleston), it’s a film that deals in supreme subtlety and is ultimately a mosaic of gestures – as many of Davies’ films are – looking at love through stifled smiles and eyes wet with held-back tears.
As the romance dances with both lust and doom, the film exhales into piercing blasts of pure sound and image. All the emotions, further heightened by the bottled-up frustrations of 50’s Britain social etiquette, are given great release in these moments. Davies has always been a true believer, a believer in the power of film and its aesthetics and is never afraid to indulge in grandiosity and sheer style should the material call for it.
His skill extends to the actors too with Weisz and Hiddleston appearing like porcelain dolls, with thin line cracks slowly manifesting in their smooth, pale complexions as their relationship becomes more fraught. In interviews around the time of the film’s release, Davies repeatedly uses the word “luminous” to describe Weisz and that is exactly how she comes across. This is a rare showcase for her, one that lets her play to both the smallest and largest calibers of her skillset. Hiddleston too is perfectly cast, here on the verge of superstardom, looking every inch of the 50s lothario he’s embodying. Hiddleston has always felt to me like a dashing star from an earlier era – like a young David Niven – and often flounders when forced into the contemporary mould of a leading man or action star (Looking at you Kong: Skull Island) but here, under Davies’ watchful eye and careful lensing, he looks right at home.
The Deep Blue Sea is an exquisitely made picture, and one that takes on a certain golden-ring-turning-brass antiquity given Davies’ loving design and period setting. It still feels like a somewhat minor work – a delicate novella in Davies’ filmography rather than a defining novel – but it is brought to life with upmost artistry and care. A totem of a filmmaking sensibility we see all too rarely. Quite lovely.
Watched on Artificial Eye blu-ray.