I have complained time and again on this blog about the trouble with historical films. Although I am innately drawn to them, they usually disappoint me. The main problem with them is that they weigh too heavily on the time period, setting it up, making it look perfect, and not enough time on captivating an audience with a good story or convincing actors. If only I could give every filmmaker who was thinking of making a movie set in a historical past The Deep Blue Sea, I feel that the quality of this genre would go up.
Rachel Weisz stars as Hester Collyer. She is the wife of an important and rich judge, Sir William Collyer, in post World War II Britain. Sir Collyer is very much her senior, but is a loving man. But Hester disregards him when he falls in love with a strapping young RAF pilot whose usefulness was over after the war ended. Freddie is a passionate lover and Hester falls head over heals for him, breaking off her marriage and moving in with him. She goes in an instant from untold wealth to abject poverty. Hester and Freddie wear down their passion for each other and Freddie substitutes her love for golf and drinking. Hester is driven to suicide (which is the first scene in the film) but it isn’t because she no longer loves Freddie. She tries to commit suicide because she has too much pity for everyone around her. She pities Sir Collyer because he is unable to satisfy neither his wife nor his mother. She pities Freddie because he is stuck in the conflict, probably never to come out of it again. And she pities herself for putting herself in such a precarious situation. The rest of the story comes as a result of her decision to try to commit suicide earlier in the film.
The film uses its historical context to inform the characters’ emotions and actions. Freddie is the way he is because he was so scarred by what he saw during World War II. He also is unable to find a job because Britain was so devastated by the great war that everyone is broke or broken. So he whiles his time away in pubs, singing traditional songs as an outlet for his pain. Hester can be seen as a symbol of the whole country breaking abruptly with old ways of life where people went to proper tea and spoke in perfect accents to the harsh yet passionate new way of life brought about by the survivors of one of the bloodiest wars in history. Freddie is the new world, Sir William is the old world. But neither is quite right for the future of Britain nor for the future of Hester. This is why Hester must be cruel to Sir William and why she allows Freddie to walk all over her. She doesn’t know what else to do.
There is a scene in the last third of the movie that I feel sums up how much I like this movie and its performances. Hester is talking to Sir William on a dark and damp street late at night. Freddie interrupts their conversation with his belligerent speech. As he leaves both of them, he screams to Sir William asking him if he still loves her. A moment after this interruption subsides, Sir William says that the answer to Freddie’s question was yes. Then he passionately tells her that he will offer her anything in order to get her back. She cruelly tells him no, but holds out hope for him that there might be a future. After this exchange, Sir William dejectedly gives her a present for her birthday. Once she expresses her fake enthusiasm for the book, Sir William gets into his Rolls Royce. But before he leaves he looks at Hester. This look is filled with utter rejection and loss. He looks away and then he looks back at her again. The same look is expressed but somehow it is deeper after he does it a second time. This one look is in a nutshell what the film is about. It is about abject sorrow and loss manifested in this love triangle.