Probing the depths of 'Deep Blue Sea'

Friday April 27, 2012

CHICAGO -- "Ravishing" is the preferred descriptor deployed conversationally, with passionate, gale-force emphasis, by the Liverpool-bred writer and director Terence Davies.

Last week the 66-year-old Davies came through town on a promotional tour in support of his latest film, a gripping adaptation of the 1952 Terrence Rattigan play "The Deep Blue Sea," starring Ra chel Weisz, Tom Hiddleston and Simon Russell Beale.

The film [which opens today at Triplex Cinema in Great Barrington] was shown in a packed advance screening at the Gene Siskel Film Center, as part of its annual European Union Film Festival.

In an interview prior to his question-and-answer session with the audience, and in the Q&A itself, Davies’s personal list of ravishments included composer Samuel Barber’s violin concerto, prominently featured in "The Deep Blue Sea"; the prose of Edith Whar ton ("Ravishing Eng lish!") in what he considers her finest novel, "The House of Mirth," filmed by Davies in 2000; and the lobby of the Palmer House Hilton hotel.

"It’s like a cross between a cathedral and a railway station," he said, puckishly.

"The Deep Blue Sea" concerns Hester Collyer (Weisz), married to a decent but dull magistrate (Beale). She discovers true, disruptive sensual satisfaction with an ex-RAF pilot (Hiddleston). Rattigan’s tale, adroitly rejiggered by Davies, deals with the cost of ravishment, in other words.

In that respect the material relates to the stories Davies responded to from so-called "women’s pictures" of the 1950s, particularly those by the cinematically ravishing Douglas Sirk, such as "All That Heaven Allows" and "Magnificent Obsession."

"I grew up on them," he told me. Movies were everything. "When my father died -- and thank God, he was a complete bastard -- my sister took me to the cinema. I was 7. My very first film -- ‘Singin’ in the Rain.’ My God, what an introduction!"

He landed in "The Deep Blue Sea" after being ap proached by the Rattigan estate, representatives of which were keen on Davies tackling a Rattigan play on screen in honor of the dramatist’s centenary.

The adaptation is quite free and structurally fluid, adjusted to reflect the female protagonist’s point of view. In one flashback, Londoners during wartime endure an aerial at tack from the Germans in the Aldwych underground tube stop. In an extended tracking shot Davies captures ordinary citizens getting on with it, stoically, while the bombs fall. While filming the director had access to the underground for a single day, Davies told the Siskel Film Center audience. The camera was mounted on the original railway tracks, "and the tracks are not smooth. And this is what’s wonderful about digital: We took all the bumps out later. Quite extra ordinary. Quite extraoridnary."

Acting on screen, according to the man who recently told the Guardian "I’m gay, I live alone and I’ve been celibate for 30 years," is a matter of relaxed concentration.

"The thing I always say is: ‘I don’t want you to act. I want you to be.’ That’s much more difficult. But when they achieve it, it’s much more in teresting, be cause it doesn’t look like acting."


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