The Deep Blue Sea (1955 film)

  • The Deep Blue Sea (1955 film)

7/8/17 (Sat), Tokyo

My second viewing of last year’s National Theatre production the previous day inspired me to seek out the old film version, which appeared just a few years after the original 1952 stage show and was scripted by Rattigan himself. (There are also several BBC television adaptations, most recently in 1994, and a bizarre film deconstruction from 2011 that I turned off after five minutes.) This first film stars Vivien Leigh, just coming off Streetcar, as well as the original stage performer Kenneth More as the lover Freddie. 

The film is much more expository than the subtle stage version, which was content to drip hints of character and circumstance and leave the rest to us. Most notably, the film offers an extensive flashback of how Hester met and fell for the lover, including bars, an airfield, a grand ball and a ski slope. (The lover became her second husband here rather than her live-in mate, presumably a function of film censorship at the time.) We get a good feel for the judge’s unintended dismissal of her needs (“You can’t leave me tonight; call the so-and-sos and cancel dinner, and we’ll discuss it”). Freddie’s self-centered impetuosity, and Hester’s desperation as she runs from bar to bar looking for Freddie. But it’s all redundant; the personalities were sketched with great skill in fewer words in the original. While I imagine the idea was to open the show up, it throws off the claustrophobic feel of the play’s single set and concentrated time span (the play’s action takes place in a single day). It crossed the line into melodrama. The National’s staging opened up the action to an extent in its semi-transparent walls, but only enough to suggest the constant presence of the outside world that Hester struggled to conform to.

Vivien Leigh is a good choice on paper but did not feel natural in the role. While I could believe her rash decision to leave her first husband, she seems too strong to put up with Freddie’s antics for too long, though she did have a convincing breakdown when he leaves her. The role requires more subtleties than she was able to command here. Her epiphany at the end when she reaches the decision to live was reminiscent of the similar moment at the close of Gone With the Wind; I was practically waiting for “Tomorrow is another day.” Kenneth More, on the other hand, was nicely spontaneous as Freddie, giving a good feel for what made him so alluring on the one hand and such a bad choice on the other. I also liked the nosy neighbor across the hallway, a more memorable portrayal than in the stage show.

The movie is best seen as a semi-interesting variation of the stage show. The live film of the National Theatre production was much more effective overall. The play’s the thing in this case.



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