Director: Terence Davies
Writers: Terence Davies (screenplay), Terence Rattigan (play)
Stars: Rachel Weisz, Tom Hiddleston and Simon Russell Beale
Motion Picture Rating: 12A
Runtime: 98 minutes
The British director Terence Davies is a national treasure. For many he is the best living British film director that we have. How many have heard of him and know his work? Not many. He is not prolific, he has focused on the past over the present for stories and his style is rather old-fashioned. The truth is that he is not well-known and this film, his sixth since Distant Voices, Still Lives in 1988, will not affect that status. Once again Davies delivers a small, tightly controlled and languid piece of cinematic art.
This film will not be for everyone. As with his other films, Davies does not play to the crowd. The film is incredibly still and atmospheric. It has weight. The fog, the smoke and the chill of London ca. 1950 pours from the screen. The sets are similarly heavy and the pervading colour scheme is brown and beige. Within this the three lead actors, Weisz as Hester, Russell Beale as Sir William and Hiddleston as Freddie, are mostly forlorn. As with the wrecked city they inhabit, they are all struggling to readjust to life after the Second World War.
The story, adapted from a Terence Rattigan play, is one of an unrequited love triangle. Hester leaves her loving husband Sir William for Freddie, but he in turn can’t reciprocate her deep love for him. Freddie is a cad, a bit of a bounder. Sir William is a lot older than the other two, mature and decent with it, but a privileged mummy’s boy at heart. Hester, sometimes strident and sometimes helpless, is left drowning in the sea that develops between the two men.
If you can get past the challenging opening section of this film it is a worthy, but sombre watch. There are echoes of Brief Encounter in it for me as well as other Davies’ films, especially scenes in smoke filled and cheery pubs. There is one exceptional scene on a London Underground platform during an air raid in WWII that is truly spellbinding. The acting is high quality too. Weisz may well become a national treasure, but Davies’ position is already secure.