By: Henry J. Fromage (Two Beers) –
Translating stage plays to film is always a tricky business. Dialogue and performances that make sense in the context of a stage production, where voices must be heard, and emotions observed men in the back rows, can appear over-enunciated and broad on the big screen, and the necessary limits of setting can feel too small and constricting in a medium where so much more is possible. Too often the two worlds just don’t mix well.
Just ask Spiderman
In this film, renowned British director Terence Davies takes on one of the enduring masterpieces of the stage, Terence Rattigan’s 1952 drama The Deep Blue Sea, which features one of the meatiest female roles ever written for the medium. Rachel Weisz is the actress who gets to sink her teeth into the story of a woman whose abundance of passion begins to alienate the men in her life, first her older, stolid husband (Simon Russell Beale), then the WWII ace she starts an affair with (Tom Hiddleston). She’s pushed to the brink when her relationship with the latter strands her both in heart and body.
The lead role is about as juicy as they get, and the always great Weisz does it justice and then some. Her inner turmoil is written across her features throughout, a masterclass in showing and not telling. A lesser actress could have let this role devolve into the selfish and wishy-washy, but Weisz never makes her less than a person deserving our complete empathy. Beale and Hiddleston match her throughout, but I was particularly impressed by Hiddleston, who reminded me of Michael Fassbender more than anything. His almost vapid dapper gent persona has hidden depths, and he plumbs those only gradually, peeling away the bark of his devil-may-care persona to reveal vulnerabilities that he’s long tried to bury.
Eventually he spins out and tries to murder Thor
Davies complements the drama of the performances with a style reminiscent of 50s melodramas, full of soft light and oversaturated colors and accompanied by an emotive, violin-heavy score. The camera is constantly slowly moving, lingering, which turns something as simple as the drift of cigarette smoke into a complex ballet. Other shots are unlike anything I’ve ever seen, in particular one that spins around the commingled bodies of two lovers in bed, deftly transitioning between time and tone as their relationship progresses.
As impressive as these elements are, it’s Rattigan’s words that are still the star of the show. At times biting and raw, and others tender, it is as engaging and erudite as fine literature. Also, especially when Weisz faces off against her mother-in-law (Ann Mitchell), it is dryly hilarious in that distinctly British way.
All y’all Downton Abbey freaks know what I’m talkin’ about!
You really need to be in the mood for this type of film when you watch it. Some of you may find it too dry or slow, and I can’t blame you for that too much. Still, if you have the time to give it your full attention, it’ll prove well worth your efforts.
This beautifully shot, immaculately performed adaptation of a stage classic should go great with those nights you’re feeling all fancy and drinking wine from a bottle.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: every time Hiddleston mentions the war
Take a Drink: every time Weisz’s husband rolls over easily
Drink a Shot: when somebody leaves