At 228 minutes, Sergio Leone’s final opus Once Upon A Time In America is frequently considered to be one of the longest mainstream movies in film history, but it’s so well plotted and well-crafted the time seems to fly by. Victor Fleming’s Gone With The Wind at 220 minutes is another film that because of its scope and sweeping story more than justifies its length. Now comes Terence Davies’s The Deep Blue Sea, a movie so slow and uninvolving that it’s running length of a mere 98 minutes feels twice as long as both of those films combined and then some. Adapted by Davies from a play by Terence Rattigan, the film is set in post-WW2 England where a woman, Hester Collyer (Rachel Weisz) is cheating on her husband William (Simon Russell Beale) with the man she loves, Freddie (Tom Hiddleston) who doesn’t really love her.
The main problem with the film, in fact perhaps it’s only real (but major) flaw, is its screenplay. It takes as its premise a horrid soap opera style love affair and never manages to rise above it. The script is rife with horribly wooden dialogue that Davies’s seems to think can be salvaged by a few (admittedly amusing) punch lines at the end of scenes that seem pre-destined for the films inevitable trailer. The plot, as well as boring, has a major moment of implausibility when Hester calls Freddie at her husband’s mother’s house, knowing that he could walk in at any moment, and guess what, he does!
The character development is also severely lacking. Hester spends a great deal of time looking at her reflection in the mirror smoking with a glum face, and we’re clearly supposed to respond to and feel sympathy for a woman powerless to her emotions. We’re also supposed to sympathize with Freddie who’s still dealing with emotional issues from his time in the war and can’t bring himself to a mature relationship. But what the audience really gets out of the film is that he’s horrible and she’s an idiot for being with him. Yes, relationships are a lot more complicated than that, but that’s how Davies’s film leaves the viewer feeling.
The film isn’t a complete disaster in other areas. The production design and art decoration give an effective and sumptuous small scale feel for the period and the acting of all three leads is excellent despite what they have to work with. A final scene between the lovers is so well acted by Weisz and Hiddleston that it transcends the material they’re working with. Another scene involving William’s Mother (Barbara Jefford), who despises Hester, is the highlight of the film and is an extremely funny island in a sea of dullness.
An absolute chore, save the performances, The Deep Blue Sea is insufferable. You know you’re watching a bad movie when there’s an audible sigh of relief from the audience when the movies end credits roll. Viewers who pick their films by title might be better off renting Renny Harlin’s killer shark movie of the same name instead.
The Deep Blue Sea will be theatrically released on 12 April through Transmission Films.