Arsenic And Old Lace gifted Cary Grant one of his best roles and Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? provided real-life couple Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton with the perfect outlet for any marital woes.
Cabaret and Chicago had razzle dazzle in the eyes of Oscar voters and Educating Rita, Shirley Valentine and Shadowlands put British filmmaking on the international map.
More recently, Frost/Nixon transferred handsomely to widescreen and Meryl Streep proved her versatility as a vengeful nun in Doubt and a lovesick mother in Mamma Mia!
Iconic British director Terence Davies, whose last dramatic feature was The House Of Mirth in 2000, revives Terence Rattigan’s 1952 play for cinema audiences, more than 55 years after Vivien Leigh and Kenneth More essayed the doomed lovers.
What resonates clearly within the four walls of a playhouse seems languid and tiresome here in lustrous close-up, and the 98 minutes of soul-searching and regret feels considerably closer to two hours.
The Deep Blue Sea looks exquisite and there are some artfully composed shots, such as the emotionally fragile heroine standing on the edge of a train platform, the flashes of light from passing carriages illuminating the pain etched on her face.
However, the churn of emotions remains largely beneath the surface and Davies never dives deep enough so we can share the characters’ intense desires and yearning.
Hester (Rachel Weisz) is married to High Court judge William Collyer (Simon Russell Beale) but the fissures are clear to see.
She begins a passionate affair with dashing former RAF pilot, Freddie Page (Tom Hiddleston).
The red-hot ardour slowly cools and while Hester vigorously pursues liaisons, he slowly draws back, leaving her to rake over the smouldering coals of the relationship and rue everything she has given up.
Hester searches for enlightenment in a boarding house run by the imperious Mrs Elton (Ann Mitchell), where one of the other lodgers, Miller (Karl Johnson), also bears the scars of the past.
However, the weight of Hester’s guilt and despair slowly suffocates her until she reaches the point where she feels there is but only one way out of the misery.
The Deep Blue Sea allows every line of dialogue to hang in the air like tendrils of smoke as the characters edge towards oblivion.
Weisz brings both beauty and vulnerability to her role but Hiddleston’s performance lacks depth and Beale clearly demonstrates why he is best suited to the theatre.
Samuel Barber’s melancholic violin concerto underscores every longing glance and racked sob, nudging the pedestrian narrative towards its inevitable, downbeat resolution.
And us towards a yawn or perhaps a snooze in the inviting dark of the auditorium.
By Damon Smith
:: SWEARING :: NO SEX :: NO VIOLENCE :: RATING: 5/10
Released: November 25 (UK & Ireland), 98 mins