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Deep Waters

The Deep Blue Sea explores unbridled passion and compulsion

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Melodrama is perhaps the most delicate of any theatrical art form. In a heartbeat, things can quickly go off the rails, ending in a sniveling mess. But melodrama's opaque delicacy, handled by a master thespian, can reveal the fragility of the human spirit.

The Deep Blue Sea, starring Rachel Weisz as a woman cursed with an inability to distinguish love from lust, is a throwback to when melodrama reigned supreme in Hollywood's golden age. While 21st century audiences may struggle with the film's paper-thin conceit and measured pacing, Weisz's performance is reminiscent of the queens of melodrama from a bygone era--Ingrid Bergman, Luise Rainer, even Greta Garbo. Dial down the film's hues to black and white, and The Deep Blue Sea could be comfortably tucked in alongside Gaslight or Camille on Turner Classic Movies. But be forewarned--your enjoyment of this film will by tempered by your tolerance for melodrama. If you embrace the genre, you may well adore the movie; if not, you may find The Deep Blue Sea insufferable.

It has been more than a half-century since playwright Terence Rattigan dazzled critics with his stage production of The Deep Blue Sea in London's West End. By the 1950s, American audiences had become accustomed to dramas of sensual compulsion from Tennessee Williams, but these were rare waters for British audiences. A little-known 1955 film version of The Deep Blue Sea, starring another queen of melodrama--Vivien Leigh--received fine notices in the United Kingdom, but never found an American audience. On the centenary of Rattigan's birth, Terence Davies--one of Britain's finest filmmakers (though he has only produced five features)--decided to revisit Rattigan's tale surrounding post-war insecurities about sex and class.

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Weisz, who appears in nearly every frame of The Deep Blue Sea, is Hester Collyer, a woman approaching middle age who dismisses her life of privilege as the wife of a high court judge (Simon Russell Beale) to embark on an affair with a dashing young pilot, Freddie Page (Tom Hiddleston in a wonderful performance). In the shadow of the affair's scandal, Hester leaves her life of luxury to move into a dingy, coldwater flat with Freddie. But Hester's life is now defined by sex while her new partner has little desire to support her in the fashion that she once enjoyed. Hester's passion becomes hyper-obsession that, in turn, dissolves into deep heartache and abandonment.

The script is bare, not by default but by design. The words are expertly chosen, leaving uncomfortably long pauses for Weisz to showcase her supreme acting skills while not once going off the boil. The costumes, cinematography and soundtrack are all lush, but the film is all about Weisz. The Oscar winner proves time and again that an actress of her caliber requires the finest of scripts and direction. In the Deep Blue Sea, she is awarded both.

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