Lushly nostalgic and heartbreaking, the films of British director Terence Davies are a singular journey into solitude—his latest, from Terence Rattigan’s 1952 play, arrives under an especially apt title. After only six fiction features, Davies has staked out a subterranean psychology: forwardly gay, openly torn and just short of miserable. The Deep Blue Sea is as good an introduction as one could have (more curious viewers should head over to BAM for a survey of his work, currently in progress). Set during the transitional era Davies prefers—post-WWII London—the story follows a trio of disconnecting lovers: Suicidal Hester (Weisz) is drifting from her remote husband, a judge (Beale). Meanwhile, RAF pilot Freddie (Hiddleston) grabs Hester’s affection, then rejects it.
It’s the stuff of melodrama, heightened by Davies’s pitch-perfect use of pop songs, like a sad “You Belong to Me,” slurred by a misty crowd in a bar. The imagery, courtesy of German cinematographer Florian Hoffmeister, is a touch too dark and redundant—watch a Davies effort like The Long Day Closes (1992) and you’ll appreciate his way with a shaft of mote-laden sunlight. But the filmmaker is fully on top of his game with his performances, not only from the Oscar-winning Weisz but from the revelatory Hiddleston, who invests Freddie with an emotional openness that improves on the source material. Happiness is not in the cards for anyone; exquisite separation, however, can be gripping in itself.
Follow Joshua Rothkopf on Twitter: @joshrothkopf