Motion-picture director Terence Davies has always been less about motion than pictures, but he has one of the more voluptuous visual styles of any director. And, as he demonstrated so deftly in 2000's "The House of Mirth," he's also a filmmaker who can find raw emotional relevance in seemingly remote material.
"The Deep Blue Sea," the Terence Rattigan chestnut, is certainly stage-bound and dusty, but it's a perfect vehicle for Davies the aesthete/social critic. In the post-war London of food rationing and national identity crisis, Hester Collyer (Rachel Weisz), well-bred wife of a high-court judge (Simon Russell Beale), falls for Freddie, a rakish ex-RAF pilot (Tom Hiddleston) and throws everything away to live with him. What better background for a woman -- one named Hester, by the way -- to go about defying social convention and all that's holy?
Weisz is just about perfect, her suicidal quasi-heroine displaying a sense of utter resignation to her place in the social order, and a sense that she simply has no choice in her surrender to love, or lust. Freddie is unworthy of her, of course (Hiddleston, of "War Horse," seems a bit hysterical for such an "earthy" character, but the part is overwritten). Her intractable husband hasn't a clue. It's only among the outcasts of her downscaled surroundings that Hester finds sympathy, something she can't quite spare for herself.
Just as he did for Edith Wharton, Davies makes Rattigan's creakiness work to his advantage, as do so many artists who make period pictures about supposedly bygone social issues. What's relevant now about the sexual liberation of a woman in 1950? Just about everything. The irony delivered by "The Deep Blue Sea" (the last shot of which is a killer) comes from approaching it as an antique, and with the attitude that the past is past. As Davies makes so bracingly evident, nothing could be further from the truth.
PLOT An upper-class Englishwoman is brought low by her affair with an ex-RAF flyer in postwar London. RATING R (gore, scary action, some strong language)
CAST Rachel Weisz, Tom Hiddleston
BOTTOM LINE Visually sumptuous re-rendering of Terence Rattigan's melancholic romance uses vintage to its advantage, and packs emotional punch.