Interview: Terence Davies (2012) The Deep Blue Sea

The Deep Blue Sea is a moving love story set in post-WWII England that follows Hester (Rachel Weisz), a privileged young woman caught between her husband (Simon Russell Beale), her lover (Tom Hiddleston), and her own overwhelming passions. It is an old-fashioned tale that delves into the nature of love itself, and its deep influence on the decisions that define us. British director Terence Davies adapted The Deep Blue Sea from the stage play and directed the film. With candor and a highly personal connection to the story, Davies shared with Working Author his experience creating the film, his preferred way of telling stories and the nature of love itself.

Growing up in post-war England, Davies had the personal experience to lend authenticity to the story. “We were flat broke. Everything was dreary. Most people couldn’t afford electricity throughout the house, you had electricity in one room.” Davis’ memories of this era influenced the story heavily, as many of the scenes are shot in low and reflected light, with deep rich shadows. “One of the things we did often was light a fire, switch off the electric light, and listen to the radio. And you’d see all the surfaces reflected in the wood and the leather…I mean that seemed sumptuous to me.”

In addition to his own experience, Davies described how The Deep Blue Sea is influenced by several other classic films. “Love is a Many Splendored Thing…The Heiress…Letter from an Unknown Woman…there was a huge emotional influence…. When you’re influenced by something, you forget about it, and then when it comes out it’s refracted – and that’s infinitely more interesting than just being imitative.”

Hester’s journey in the film follows her desperate overtures to her lover Freddie, and her gradual emotional understanding that the nature of their relationship must evolve or die. Her dilemma becomes an internal struggle regarding the nature of love itself. As Davies explains: “The point of it is the nature of love. The nature of love doesn’t change. Its expression might, the way people arrive at it may change, but actual love doesn’t change, and it’s unique to our species. We’re the only species that will lay down our life for someone else to whom we are not related. And that’s extraordinary – it’s an extraordinary, wonderful thing.”

Davies recounted how his own painful experience with letting go of his mother shaped his understanding of what love really meant. “She was 90…and I just knew that she wanted to go because she was tired. And all your instincts are to keep her. You’d do anything to be with her just that much longer…. And I thought ‘that’s selfishness.’ She wants to go and I’ve got to be selfless and let her go. It’s what she wants now. And that changes you profoundly. It just changes you profoundly.”

Indeed, all the characters seem trapped by an inability to let go, an inability to get the love they so desperately seek. Davies felt this was the underlying subtext of the piece. “What it’s really about is the nature of love….all the characters cannot get the love reciprocated that they want. It’s a different type of love. And in the end, it’s love…that is beyond sexual love, it’s true love.”

Shooting the film, and setting up the emotional environment, required a certain sensitivity on the part of Davies, and something that Rachel Weisz and Tom Hiddleston brought to the set. “What you’ve got to be aware of is mood…you have to feel it on a shot by shot basis. Because their emotions are very near the surface…you know when they’re on form – they come to set and, you don’t have to worry today…. It’s feeling it and knowing when the take is right…I don’t know how, but I just know. When you get it, it’s fantastic.”

Davies brought up the pace of classic film storytelling in high contrast to the fast, disjointed style of television. “The problem is television is seen as no different from film – and there’s a difference. A big difference…It’s like fast food. Lots of cutting. Lots of music. Very loud. It appears to be action. But it’s got no nutrition in it.” Davies insists that it is the story, what lies underneath, that really matters. “Casablanca is relatively slow… not quick cut…. the image is only beautiful when it has meaning. It could be black and white, you could have shot it on a knife and fork, if it’s got meaning, it will be beautiful.”

Davies has a dim view of many of the films made today, so much so that he rarely goes to the cinema. “I can’t suspend my disbelief…it’s got all the same people, they’ve all been to the gym…and they all look exactly the same. And they all run around…with things exploding all over the place…and there’s only one thing worse than an actor with a gun, and it’s a British actor with a gun. Pathetic.”

Hester’s struggles with her direction will most likely find resonance with most audiences who has ever loved or felt heartbreak. Davies shot the film with these sensitivities in mind. “Everyone has loved, everyone has felt loss, everyone. All of us. You can’t not be human. And I hope that speaks to people, and I hope it’s what [T.S.] Eliot says in the four quartets ‘Love is most nearly itself when here and now cease to matter.’”

Davies extraordinary film The Deep Blue Sea opened March 23, and is now playing in theatres.