|Image: Artificial Eye|
OK, the inevitable shark jokes. Let’s get those out of the way. In all seriousness, this is an adaptation of the Terence Rattigan play by one of Britain’s most respected directors. Expectations were high but word at the festivals was somewhat muted.
The film starts with Hester (Rachel Weisz) attempting suicide. When her neighbours save her life, she reflects on how she ended up leaving her wealthy, respectable husband William (Simon Russell Beale) for young, brash pilot Freddie (Tom Hiddleston). The challenges of the day are far from over, and she must decide what she wants.
First things first, this is a lovely film to look at. Terence Davies and cinematographer Florian Hoffmeister have done tremendous work establishing mood and atmosphere. It’s all quite arch and overdone, which is appropriate given the melodramatic material, but it’s beautiful nevertheless. As Hester lights a cigarette we follow the smoke into her memories. Tears are illuminated in the warm glow of a fire. Hester’s red coat stands out as she walks the dark, wet streets of London alone.
It’s the structure that’s slightly off. It’s never quite able to shake off its staginess, despite some rather abrupt cutting during the first twenty minutes. Once it hits its stride around the halfway mark it suddenly becomes very involving. Weisz is excellent as Hester, aware of the foolishness of her situation but unwilling and unable to do anything differently. She’s confronted by her husband, whose anger gives way to acceptance and pleading, and insulted by her lover, who finds her desperate love for him suffocating. It’s in these longer scenes between the characters that the film really comes to life.
But there’s something that doesn’t quite work. The leisurely pace is to be expected but the fact that it’s quite so uneven is a disappointment. After building up an impressive head of steam during the second act the film slows right down to a crawl for the final third. The inevitability of the conclusion is crushing but it makes the languorous pace a little frustrating.
It’s exquisitely photographed and boasts three fine performances, but it’s never consistent enough to fully engage the viewer.
Verdict: Weisz, Hiddleston, and Beale are excellent, it’s beautiful to look at, and it’s got some wonderful scenes. It just doesn’t quite hold together.