Written by Matt Giles
Edited by Erin Accomando
The Deep Blue Sea, the 2012 film from writer/director Terence Davies, tells the story of Hester Collyer (Rachel Weisz), a woman married to High Court judge Sir William Collyer (Simon Russell Beale) who begins having an affair with an RAF pilot Freddie Page (Tom Hiddleston) because her marriage is, well, devoid of passion. The present time in the story is set somewhere around 1950 and takes place over a single day that begins with Hester’s failed attempt at suicide. The film weaves in and out of flashbacks showing how her affair began and ultimately what led her to want to commit suicide in the first place.
I have to admit, from the very first sequence, this film was not working for me. There are movies that can pull off a slow pace with an overbearing presence of melodrama; this, sadly, is not one of them. To be fair I have never seen any of Davies’ other films, but from what I’ve read this style of filmmaking seems to be what he’s known and praised for. Frankly, I don’t see it.
Based on a 1952 play by Terence Rattigan, the film tries to show a portrait of a woman whom we’re meant to feel sorry for. Now it’s very true that that Weisz gives an outstanding performance and should be recognized come awards season, however, through no fault of Weisz, I never quite felt the sympathy the film seemingly wanted me to feel for Hester. Hester herself is not written as a sympathetic character, she’s written as a mess; a victim of her own self destructiveness. She’s more frustrating than anything else.
It’s true that she is in a marriage that has no physical relationship. Her husband does love her, but does not seem to see the point in having sex. It’s also true that William is much older than Hester, and, from what I could gather, was married for his money. When she begins her affair with Freddie we see instantly that everything between them is completely physical. Most of what Freddie says has to do with his longing to be in the war again; how being a pilot during that time was the most exciting part of his life. As an audience, we see the looks on Hester’s face and know instantly that this is all Freddie wants to talk about. Hester falls so in love with Freddie despite him never really fully committing to that head-over-heals in love she wants him to feel.
That’s the problem with a character written like this: She knows that he’ll never love her the way she loves him and yet she continues to punish herself, believing that she can make him love her. Why? Well we’re never really told. The entire film is one sequence after another that illustrates why these two should not be together. Yet, our heart is supposed to break for Hester?
To be clear, this is not victim blaming. Hester is just a sad woman who says one thing but truly believes another and chooses to live in misery. I once heard the phrase, “You can’t help someone who won’t help oneself”, and guess that idea still sticks with me. After months apart, William, initially angry and never wanting to see Hester again upon finding out about the affair, checks in on Hester after her suicide attempt and offers to grant her a divorce and to help her in any way he can. She is given an out and never really does anything with it. Instead, she keeps bothering Freddie, begging him to love her after he finds out that she tried to kill herself. This does not come across as sad; it comes across as pathetic.
When the credits rolled I was kind of stumped. I didn’t understand why this film that I was looking forward to was getting so over-praised by critics. In reading Chicago Tribune film critic Michael Phillips’ review of the film, I found out that he, too, praised it but also made sure to mention that, “Davie’s touch will never be for everyone”. Again, having not seen any of his other work, I do not feel that I can appropriately dignify that statement with a response. What I can say is that this film misses its mark by a long shot. If this is a sign of Davies’ other works I must be immune to his touch.