A review of the post-WWII romance "The Deep Blue Sea," based on a play by Terence Rattigan. Rachel Weisz stars in this dramatic, beautiful movie.

Share story

MOVIE REVIEW 3.5 stars

Taking place in a still-ravaged London in “around 1950,” Terence Davies’ exquisite “The Deep Blue Sea” is a story of passion and its aftermath; of what happens when an unhappy woman goes chasing after something shiny, only to find how quickly it fades.

Rachel Weisz, achingly beautiful, is Hester, a clergyman’s daughter who married a much-older, sedate attorney named William (Simon Russell Beale) and settled into a comfortable but unexciting life. After the war, she meets a dashing younger man, Freddie Page (Tom Hiddleston), a former fighter pilot who wears his war-hero glamour like a jaunty hat, and falls in love with him. Hester leaves her husband and, drunk with passion, moves into Freddie’s tatty flat — where life soon loses its rosy sheen.

Based on a celebrated play by Terence Rattigan (filmed previously in 1955, starring Vivien Leigh) and set to a plaintively radiant violin concerto by Samuel Barber, “The Deep Blue Sea” moves elegantly backward and forward in Hester’s tale. We see William and Hester visiting William’s imperious mother (who warns Hester to “beware of passion”); Hester and Freddie’s first meeting; Hester in a warmly lit pub with friends, gazing at Freddie like he’s an oasis in the desert; William and Hester huddled in an underground train station with their neighbors during a war blitz, faintly joining in the chorus as an unknown man sings “Molly Malone”; Hester, late in the film, looking at Freddie with a sort of bright sadness, understanding that he can’t ever be what she dreamed.

This is the first feature from Davies since his 2000 version of “The House of Mirth” (which gave Gillian Anderson a virtuoso role), and the two films share a lush visual beauty. The camerawork, by director of photography Florian Hoffmeister, features several long, glorious tracking shots (two of which, leading up to and away from Hester’s apartment building, bookend the film); beautifully framed dialogue scenes; and an uncanny way of capturing nuance. You can practically smell the tobacco- colored wallpaper in Hester and Freddie’s flat (it reeks of long-ago cigarettes, faint mildew, kippers and disappointment) as Hester’s red coat and lipstick seem to glow in the dim, yellowy light.

Beale, conveying a sober resignation to life’s disappointments, and Hiddleston, playing a fading golden retriever of a man, are perfectly cast, but this movie belongs to Weisz, who’s in every scene and movingly presents Hester as a vulnerable but knowing woman, living in a time when nothing made sense anymore and trying desperately to reconcile fantasy and reality. “It’s not sordid,” she hotly tells William, of the affair with Freddie. “I love him.” Loving and desiring, she painfully learns, are not the same things — and so we find her in the beginning crouched by the fire, utterly alone, with only the hiss of gas for company. It’s a slow, quiet tragedy, beautifully told.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com