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Film Review

The Deep Blue Sea

Terence Rattigan was one of the best known English playwrights of the 20th Century, with at least 27 stage plays to his credit, and knighted in 1971. He died in 1977. Although from an upper middle class family, he was a tail gunner in the RAF during the war, which deeply affected him. Some of his better know plays are "The Winslow Boy" (1946), The Browning Version " (1948), "The Deep Blue Sea" (1952), and "A Bequest to the Nation" (1970). In addition he wrote many screen plays and re-wrote other authors' screenplays. At one time, he was the highest paid screenwriter in England. Yet his style of drama, often very English, with emotions not expressed, was eclipsed by the Angry Young Men playwrights in the 1950's, and it took another 40 years for his plays to regain their popularity.

The English director, Terence Davies, has taken Rattigan's classic, "The Deep Blue Sea", and turned it into a great film. Davies has only done about 6 films in the past 25 years, but all memorable. His two previous films, both of which screened here, were "House of Mirth" (2000) and "Of Time and the City" (2008), the later a lyric tribute to his hometown of Liverpool, with archival footage and popular music. "The Deep Blue Sea" is set in post war London, about 1950, as the British were still struggling to rebuild their cities and economy. Rattigan's story, only a day long, is that of a classic love triangle, with Hester Collyer at the center. She is a very proper woman, beautiful, intelligent and sometimes acerbic, the wife of a senior judge, but willing to risk everything to plunge into a relationship with a handsome, immature and damaged man. Rachel Weisz plays Hester, whose character's name surely was borrowed from 19th Century American literature. The man, Freddie, was a pilot in the Battle of Britain, which was, as Churchill famously said, "their finest hour". It was also Freddie's finest hour, and despite the horror, cherishes his memories of camaraderie and combat. He apparently was never able to get a regular job, has drifted about, living in a cheap rooming house, but still dashing in a suit. He has brought her an excitement that never existed in her marriage. Her husband is angry and hurt when he learns of the affair, and refuses to give her a divorce. But our first impressions of each man are not necessarily correct. Her husband's mother is also a factor here, offering such English advice as "Beware of passion, it always leads to something ugly". But for Hester, "the heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of".

The cinematography is masterful and gorgeous. It opens with a slow look at a street with a bomb wrecked house, then travels up the facade of Freddie's fading brick rooming house. "The Deep Blue Sea" is one of the most atmospheric films I have seen in many years. Colors are muted, and most scenes take place in dimly lighted rooms or at night, with faces illumined against dark backgrounds. In a particularly beautiful scene early in the film, the camera looks down at Hester and Freddie making love, and we see a slow spiral of tangled legs against grey sheets. Another very moving scene is Hester's recollection of sheltering in the underground during a bombing raid. This is essentially a three person story, and the acting is outstanding. It is the type of film that the British do better than anyone else, in part because their actors are so accomplished. I loved this film. This is probably Rachel Weisz's finest performance, and will surely win her a nomination for best actress. The music, like the film, is lyric and melancholy, with long passages from a Samuel Barber concerto, broken by popular English songs.

Only 98 minutes long, and playing at the Embarcadero, the Rafael (San Rafael), and the Piedmont, so no excuse to miss this gem on the big screen.

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