"In the late 1950s Terence Rattigan fell victim to time and trend," begins Nigel Andrews in the Financial Times. "You could look up 'unfashionability' in an illustrated dictionary and there was the playwright's mug shot: the Winslow Boy/Browning Version/Deep Blue Sea man looking out glumly into a condemned future. Today, with the Angry Young Playwright generation, his usurpers, looking more like the condemned ones, the cry 'Anyone for Terence?' is heard throughout theatreland. Now it invades cinema. Terence Davies's The Deep Blue Sea is one Terry's tribute to another: a Rattigan play about tortured love in postwar England adapted by the filmmaker who gave us his tortured love paean — love of family, of childhood, of the tender nightmares of growing up in 1950s Liverpool — in Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988). Davis hasn't made a feature since 2000, his film of Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth. His style doesn't spread easily. He needs a world where the manners are constricted and the textures clotted, even claustrophobic; a world where the main musical marking is con repressione. Here, perfectly, it is."
The set-up, courtesy of Jason Wood in Little White Lies: "Hester Collyer (Rachel Weisz) leads a privileged life in 1950s London. The beautiful wife of passionless but doting high court judge Sir William Collyer (Simon Russell Beale), Hester – in a material sense at least – wants for nothing. To the shock and dismay of those around her, Hester walks out on her marriage and life of luxury to move in with a dashing young ex-RAF pilot, Freddie Page (Tom Hiddleston). Finding herself emotionally stranded and physically isolated, Hester feels Freddie drifting away from her, and in an attempt to win him back attempts suicide. Succeeding only in estranging her further, Hester is forced to confront all too clearly the foibles of the human heart…. Stripping away much of Rattigan's exposition and many of the extraneous characters that inhabited the original production, Davies, a scholarly aficionado of the melodrama, gives contemporary audiences an almost unbearably moving and assiduously non-judgmental story about women's lives and desires."
"Beale's wounded gentility and Hiddleston's combination of petulance and tenderness serve the men perfectly, bringing out different sides of Weisz, who seems to get more beautiful just as her acting's going from strength to strength," writes the Telegraph's Tim Robey. "Weisz makes Hester a willing accomplice in her own perdition, a woman who chooses to feel at all costs, daunted though she is by what her passionate independence might mean."
"Davies brings to Rattigan some of the themes and images from his film The Long Day Closes," notes the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw: "gloomy, torpid interiors, seen often through a gauze of cigarette smoke. Most importantly of all, there are singalongs in pubs, the pubs in which Freddie and Hester celebrated their affair, and then where Freddie would stomp off grumpily to be on his own. Pub singalongs are such a vivid madeleine in this film: carrying the action back to earlier sing-songs in the war, and to those memories of bomb damage, still unrepaired in London's streets and now an intolerable metaphor for the damage in people's hearts. The Deep Blue Sea is a melancholy film without a doubt, but with great sweetness and delicacy."
More from Dave Calhoun (Time Out London, 3/5) and Geoffrey Macnab (Independent). Interviews with Davies: Stuart Jeffries (Guardian), Jason Solomons (Observer) and Adam Woodward (Little White Lies). Earlier: Reviews from Toronto.
Update: The Guardian's Xan Brooks profiles Hiddleston.
Updates, 11/27: "Despite the difference in age and background (Rattigan upper middle class, home counties, Church of England; Davies working class, northern, Catholic), they have much in common," suggests the Observer's Philip French: "being gay, having a deep attachment to England, a sympathetic understanding of women and a stoical sense of living with and making the uncomplaining best of the hand life has dealt you. This is perhaps best expressed in Rattigan's plays The Browning Version, Separate Tables and The Deep Blue Sea, all filmed in the 1950s, but none with such love, attention and understanding as Davies brings to his present task."
Jonathan Romney for Sight & Sound: "Visually the film evokes both emotional grandeur and material shabbiness, in the claustration of Hester's tobacco-brown flat, a space where, when curtains are flung open, daylight enters but doesn't illuminate. Rattigan's Ladbroke Grove (not named in the film) is a desert for social exiles, victims of 'anger, hatred, shame' — the conditions that afflict Hester's soul, but which, Davies's film reminds us, are perennial components of the English condition."