The human heart beats with the strength of not only its present, but its future. When the present emotional life becomes so stifled that the entire future is at stake, drastic action is inevitable. Such desperate love is many things – destructive, passionate, liberating and necessary. In the aftermath of post-war London, Hester Collyer finds her heart irrevocably burning for the lover she left her husband for, a love that leads her to self-destruction. In The Deep Blue Sea, it is Hester’s heartbreak that painfully, finally, leads to inner radiance.
The tale begins in a London tenement, with Hester (Rachel Weisz) carefully setting up a suicide note for her lover, Freddie (Tom Hiddleston) before she turns on the gas and attempts to end her life by asphyxiation. She is rescued by her landlady, Mrs. Elton (Ann Mitchell) and the mysterious Mr. Miller (Karl Johnson), a man with some medical training. When Hester awakes, she is embarrassed, and attempts to downplay the matter. She begs Mrs. Elton not to reveal what has happened to her husband, Sir William Collyer (Simon Russell-Beale) and retreats to solitude to reminisce what has brought her to this sad state.
Through Hester’s memory we see her life as a woman of high-privilege, married to a prestigious judge in a relationship that provides her all the material things she could ask for, but is devoid of passion. Her mother-in-law cruelly derides her for outwardly displaying her feelings, and her husband fails to defend or protect her from the barbs. Retreating to the guest room, Hester calls her lover, and arranges for them to meet when she returns to London. Her husband overhears her discussion, and her affair is discovered. Hester’s memories of her lover, erotic embraces, laughter in the pub, whispered admirations, sweep over her. She has already emotionally left her marriage, for quite some time.
Though simple for her heart, it is not so simple for her life. Once she gives up everything for Freddie, can Freddie provide the emotional life she needs beyond erotic love? Is erotic love alone enough to sustain her past her suffocating marriage? What if the depth of her passion is not matched by Freddie? What if Sir William relents, and wants her back? How can she tame feelings that she feels she has no control over? Does she even want to? These questions battle within her as she feels both men start to slip away.
Rachel Weisz is astounding in the role, a part in which she seems born to play. In the hands of a lesser actress, these intense feelings could easily devolve into histrionics. But Weisz channels these emotions with absolute authenticity. She loves with everything she has, and even in moments of stillness you can see the storms raging behind her eyes. Tom Hiddleston is pitch-perfect as Freddie – dashing, handsome and completely irresponsible. It is easy to see why Hester would fall for him. Simon Russell-Beale’s portrayal of Sir William is surprisingly deep and sympathetic. He, too, is desperately in love with Hester, but both his passion and Hester’s rejection of him stop short from the surface. He is a man drowning in his inability to express the pain within. But you will see it anyway.
The Deep Blue Sea is adapted from a play. Though some audiences may not appreciate its slower pace, it is impossible to tell the story any other way. Much care was taken with all parts of its production, evoking a dream-like, sumptuous feel. It moves slowly, unfolding with Hester’s memory and emotional life. It is a meditation on the nature of love itself, even the elements that we wouldn’t normally associate with it in its most romantic sense.
Indeed, Mrs. Elton the landlady interjects a valid point midway through the film. After tucking in an older male invalid in her boarding house for the night, Mrs. Elton scolds Hester for acting childishly. “True love,” she says, “is wiping someone’s ass to preserve their dignity.” The reality rings true – that reliable love is the kind that stays long past eroticism is gone. But it doesn’t mean that passionate love isn’t real. It simply means it sometimes disappears. But just because the music ends, it doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth dancing.