Editor’s note: Originally scheduled to open in Las Vegas in April, The Deep Blue Sea never ended up playing local theaters, but we’re presenting this review now that the movie is available on DVD.
Absent from screens since 2000's sublime The House of Mirth (save for a 2008 documentary about Liverpool), British filmmaker Terence Davies triumphantly returns with another impeccable literary adaptation, this time of Terence Rattigan's 1952 play The Deep Blue Sea. And just as Gillian Anderson did her career-best work in Mirth, so too does Rachel Weisz as Hester, The Deep Blue Sea's stubbornly tragic protagonist, who's chosen to leave the comfort and affection of her middle-aged husband (Simon Russell Beale) for a passionate affair with a dashing young pilot (Tom Hiddleston) who doesn't love her—a fact that Hester knows perfectly well, but which can't make a dent in her all-consuming need to be with him. It's a film that begins with Hester's failed suicide attempt and goes from there.
Which sounds like a total downer, I realize. But Davies presents Hester's misery with such glorious expressionistic fervor—quick dissolves, overhead spirals, blatant disregard for conventional exposition—that it's as swoon-worthy as it is heartbreaking. Likewise, he boldly heightens the melodrama, giving present-tense scenes the burnished intensity of a sad memory and encouraging each of his three lead actors to fully embody a single defining trait, in a way that suggests neither stereotype nor caricature but simply essence distilled. Weisz, in particular, plays a largely unsympathetic character without once begging for our approval or understanding, reveling in pragmatic masochism. It's like watching somebody cut herself using another human being instead of a knife.