Love can be extremely humiliating -- so humiliating that it can bring you to your knees. This is the simple but powerful message of The Deep Blue Sea, director Terence Davies' adaptation of Terence Rattigan's 1952 play. The story, set mostly in post-World War II London, is situated around an unfortunate love triangle consisting of Hester Collyer (Rachel Weisz), her much older husband Sir William (Simon Russell Beale), a High Court judge, and thrill-seeking ex-Air Force pilot Freddie Page (Tom Hiddleston).
Trapped in a sparkless, joyless marriage and carrying on a passionate affair with Freddie, Hester parts ways -- rather bitterly -- with her husband and moves into a cramped and dilapidated flat. She makes that decision despite the objections of her father, a minister, and a warning from the angered Sir William, who tells her that he will not consent to a divorce, that he will make things as difficult as he can for her and that he never wants to see her again.
Both Hester's father and husband are right to caution her, though for the entirely wrong reasons. Despite her physical attraction to him, Freddie is not the emotionally stable and reliable type of man that Hester desires. Her husband and her lover are two sides of the same coin -- one provides comfort, respect, steadiness and the other passion, excitement, unpredictability. And that irreconcilability culminates in a suicide attempt by a despondent Hester when Freddie leaves her alone for days on a golfing trip that coincides with her birthday.
The fallout from her suicide attempt leaves the carefree and flighty Freddie alternately horrified and enraged (both emotions are amplified by his heavy drinking) and it draws long lost William back into the fold. He still has deep feelings for Hester, is worried about her and is ready to forgive her, her transgressions no longer as hurtful as they were when he first discovered them. This is The Deep Blue Sea's unsolvable riddle. Hester loves both her husband and Freddie. Freddie and William both love her. And yet none of them love each other in exactly the way each seems to want and/or need their counterpart to. If you've been in a failed long-term relationship, you ought to be able to relate because some variation of this is probably the reason it didn't work.
Despite such an easily relatable story, The Deep Blue Sea didn't really work for me; I guess I couldn't love it in the way it needed to be loved. I was particularly bothered by both the beginning and the end, which surrounded the meat of the plot with an utterly shrill violin and dreary dialogue-free shots of Londoners glancing longingly out their windows. I also didn't appreciate the lack of imagination in the adaptation. It seems to me that if you're afforded the opportunity to turn an excellent play into a film, you should take advantage of the things you can do on film that you can't do on a stage. Davies offered very little to distinguish this from something you might see at your local theater other than some overhead shots of Weisz and Hiddleston with their legs intertwined and that blasted, shrieking violin.
The three stars here are excellent, though -- their pensive looks conveying well the pain of doomed romances. You just have to wonder what might have been had they been given just a little bit more with which to work.