With all eyes focused on Lionsgate’s The Hunger Games this weekend, not many will notice Music Box Films’ quiet limited (NY, LA, Miami) launch of their 2011 Toronto Film Festival pickup The Deep Blue Sea. It’s the first narrative film in over a decade from British director Terence Davies — his last was 2000’s The House Of Mirth — and stars Academy Award winner Rachel Weisz in another Oscar-bait role. Davies did do a highly regarded 2008 documentary, Of Time And The City, in the long interim between narrative projects.
With an impressive 84% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes and major raves today from the NY and LA Times among others, Weisz and the film are winning the kind of top reviews that Oscar voters usually notice. In fact, Music Box was toying with the idea of opening the heavy relationship drama for a week in December in order to qualify for the last Oscars but finally decided it was not in the film’s best interests to rush it out there — especially with such a competitive Best Actress race already going on. Plus, Weisz had another potential awards role with the August release The Whistleblower, so it might have just confused things, though as it turned out the Samuel Goldwyn Co did not end up campaigning Whistleblower in any significant way. A March opening for Deep Blue Sea is a tough time for releasing Oscar contenders and hoping they will be remembered. Nevertheless Weisz’s emotionally naked performance as a 1950’s-era woman caught in an unsatisfying marriage and embarking on a torrid affair with a younger man (played by War Horse’s Tom Hiddleston) is the kind of thing actors crave, and it’s certainly one of the few female roles of any real substance to surface at this early point in the year.
Davies actually is just happy the movie is getting an American release (Artificial Eye handles in the UK) as the director says his intense movies are difficult sells. “Some people can’t bear my style at all,” he said in a recent phone conversation. “I remember at one Q&A a woman stood up and shouted, ‘Why are your films so bloody slow and depressing?’ I told her, ‘It’s a gift’.”
Best known for the Cannes sensations Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988) and the somewhat autobiographical The Long Day Closes (1992) — both set in the same era as his current film — Davies has been described as a cult director. In fact that’s the term Weisz used to characterize him when I asked her about this film just before it went to Toronto. But he seems surprised. “I don’t see myself that way at all; I go into a room and I’m the only one I never heard of,” he says.
The funny thing is astonishingly he had never even heard of Weisz when he set about to cast his new film. But he happened to be watching TV one night and stumbled on to Swept From The Sea, becoming intrigued with one of its stars. “She’s marvelous. I was watching and there was this girl who came on with these fabulous eyes and wonderful luminosity and I waited until the end of the film and it said it was Rachel Weisz. I rang my manager and asked, ‘have you ever heard of someone called Rachel Weisz?’ He said, ‘you’re the only one who hasn’t’ so I said ‘please can we send the script to her.’ We sent it, she rang me and I said ‘if you say no I don’t know who i’ll approach’ and she said ‘yes I will’.”
Davies said he was totally attracted to the character Weisz played which was first seen in the play written by Terrence Rattigan in 1952. Rattigan’s estate approached Davies about doing a film version of one of the writer’s works in honor of Rattigan’s centennial. Davies thought The Deep Blue Sea was something he could really reshape and make work for today’s audiences. “The central character was a woman I imbibed as I grew up. I think that was one of the things that drew me to it. Here it was about a woman in her 40s who discovers sex and that’s very powerful. It’s really a menage a trois about unrequited love. Each of them wants a kind of love from the other person which the other person cannot give, and I think that’s powerful,” he said pointing out that some of his own inspirations in adapting this play were the big women’s pictures of the ’40s and ’50s such as Magnificent Obsession, Love is a Many Splendored Thing, All That Heaven Allows and Letter From An Unknown Woman. He changed the structure of Rattigan’s work to tell the story all from Weisz’s character Hester’s point of view.
“I think it’s my most mature film. It’s taken me a long time to get to ‘mature.’ Directing it I felt a greater sense of freedom, and that’s because not having worked for eight years you reach a point where you have to accept what happens. But when this came up I was very very grateful and felt very free,” he says.