The Deep Blue Sea (2011)

Not a shark in sight here, unless you count Tom Hiddleston’s unpredictable Royal Air Force pilot, a gorgeous, fine-tailored specimen whose manicured exterior doesn’t necessarily mean he doesn’t bite on the odd occasion. No, director Terence Davies’ tender love story has nothing to do with the same-named watery horror from 1999. Instead, it’s something of a spiritual sequel to Brief Encounter, the 1945 classic in which a woman is tempted to cheat on her husband with a man she’s met at a train station.

In The Deep Blue Sea, Rachel Weisz’s Hester has already succumbed to that desire, having left her husband (Simon Russell Beale) for dashing young pilot Freddie (Hiddleston). It’s the 1950s, and such scandal is not to be taken lightly – not least as Britain attempts to rebuild itself after the war. Hester doesn’t care, though, readily making a nest with Freddie, even as the passion that burns between the couple threatens to destroy them.

Beginning with a suicide attempt, and ending in an explosion of emotion, The Deep Blue Sea is a period piece that’s as refined as it is surprisingly raw. Though much of the plot takes place in a mere handful of locations – Freddie’s flat, the pub, Hester’s mother-in-law’s – it’s the internal action that really drives proceedings. Having graduated from being chased by mummies, Weisz delivers a fraught and moving performance, while Hiddleston is nothing short of remarkable as a thrill-seeker who’s gotten more than he bargained for.

After helming Distant Voices, Still Lives in 1988, Davies is comfortable working in a war-torn setting. His recreation of a ‘50s England is beautifully handled – replete with a jolly pub sing-along and a poignant segment set in the underground – while his film sagely deliberates the pros and cons of pure unbridled passion. There will be tissues. 4/5

Archipelago (2010)

Alfred Hitchcock once remarked that film drama is life with the dull bits cut out. With her sophomore feature Archipelago, British director Joanna Hogg (Unrelated) has reinstated all those dull bits. Steeping her film in natural light and stripping away any formalistic film furniture, Hogg’s attempts to scrape off Hollywood gloss for a red-raw examination of familial dissonance are well intentioned. Sadly, it’s all just a little too spare for its own good.

The archipelago, or collection of islands, that gives Hogg’s domestic drama its name are the Isles of Scilly – though that title could just as well refer to our central family; a holidaying mother, her grown-up children and their resident chef. Living on top of each other, they are nevertheless islands unto themselves, battling their own insecurities as they await the arrival of the kids’ father – who has absolutely zero intention of pitching up.

Just how spare is it? Characters umm. And aah. And pause. And stumble over their words. They talk about the tragedy of boiling lobsters, and how best to pluck a partridge. An hour in, you’ll be desperate for something to happen. Which is, of course, exactly how our characters are feeling, and makes Hogg’s film all the more difficult to dismiss.

But compromising rhythm and tempo in the name of bare-faced naturalism cripples Hogg’s endeavours, and the outcome is jarringly discordant. The director’s Terrence Malick-like preoccupation with nature’s elemental presence and her Mike Leigh-echoing slow boil both feel redundant in their threadbare delivery. On the upside, squabbling sibs Tom Hiddleston (next up in comic adap Thor) and Amy Lloyd give good bicker, while a fantastically uneasy restaurant scene breathes life into proceedings. But at a patience-testing two hours, Archipelago’s floating in an arty abyss of its own making. Hitchcock wouldn’t approve. 2/5

Via Out In The City