Deep Blue Sea: Interview with Director Terence Davies

Given director Terence Davies’ admiration for the great popular melodramas of the 1940s and 50s – once dismissed as “women’s pictures” but now regarded as serious articulations of women’s lives and desires, it seemed only natural that he would respond to the themes in the play.


Nevertheless, Davies was wary at first about taking on the project, the first play he has adapted for the big screen. But the more he read the play, the more the themes engaged him.


“It’s the story of a woman who leaves her husband, William, and her luxurious life for Freddie, the younger man with whom she’s fallen madly in love. It’s the first time she’s felt erotic love–her marriage was about companionship with a kind man–and it overwhelms her. After rereading the play, I realized that it was about love – which is the strangest of all human emotions. It’s about how each character – Hester, her husband Collyer and Freddie – wants a different form of love from the person they’re in love with, and how it can’t be given.


That’s a heart-breaking theme. “If you didn’t grow up in 1950s, you have no idea about how very shocking it was for a woman like her to do what she did,” he continues. “She does something very courageous and bohemian. Modern audiences won’t fully understand how shocking her action would have been then. But the point is that she gives up someone who loves her because she’s found erotic love. And the idea of doing something because you’re in the thrall of an emotion you can’t control, that’s timeless.”


Davies was careful not to impose any moral judgments on the characters. “I wanted there to be sympathy for all the characters even though they do things that could be judged wrong or hurtful. We see a lot of different characters–it’s kind of a microcosm of what Britain was like then – and I wanted to make them all human because as soon as you give them humanity, you can accept their good and bad points.


We have Mrs Elton who cares for her husband and Mr Miller who is brusque but he’s tender and offers help. They are all needy people but they’ve all got their different kinds of courage.”


Davies was also aware of the similarity of the themes the play explores with those that have informed his previous work.  “My films are always about outsiders,“ he says. “I’ve always felt like an outsider myself; I’ve always never felt part of life, I’ve always felt like a spectator. And I think that’s what interests me about all the people and the things that I’ve written about. Lily Bart in House of Mirth is an outsider, and so is Hester here.


The nature of time is another obsession. I love moving in and out of linear time because there’s something thrilling about doing that. The themes of the nature of love, the nature of guilt, the nature of behaving honorably even if it hurts someone else.”


Opening up the story to the wider canvas of film presented its own challenges but also gave the director the opportunity to explore a different way to tell the story. “Cinema and the theatre are different. Cinema can reveal things,” says Davies. “And if you can reveal things, then there’s no need to talk about it. But you can also show the ambiguities which arise between the cuts. And you can move in and out of time. You can dissolve and the audience knows it’s time past or time forward. So you can play around with the linear story and the remembered story, which influences here the whole narrative. I love that idea of people being in reverie, thinking of the past and how it affects their present.”



If these stylistic touches recall one of the seminal films of the 1940s – David Lean’s Brief Encounter – it is certainly no accident. In The Deep Blue Sea Davies plays homage both to that Lean classic and to others such as Letter From an Unknown Woman, Now Voyager, The Heiress, It Always Rains on Sunday and All That Heaven Allows.



Indeed, Brief Encounter haunts Davies’ The Deep Blue Sea. Both are stories about conventional women who are torn between the fulfilment of desire and the oppression of convention. As in Brief Encounter, The Deep Blue Sea is a subjective narrative–the whole story is filtered through Hester’s consciousness. Like Celia Johnson’s Laura, Hester articulates her story to the audience in voice over, drawing a real sense of intimacy. This is her story, her journey.



The Deep Blue Sea is not a linear narrative, but a patchwork of memory and real-time, a unique style that Davies has previously explored in his autobiographical works, Distant Voice, Still Lives and The Long Day Closes.



O’Connor and Davies initially developed the screenplay with the support of the Rattigan Estate. In June 2010, O’Connor took the script to the UK Film Council who immediately expressed their interest in backing the film. At that point, producer Kate Ogborn joined the production.




Together, Ogborn and O’Connor set about putting the financing together, their ambition being to shoot the film before the end of the year, in order for it to be ready for release in the UK in 2011 to tie in with the Rattigan Centenary celebrations. In July 2010, the recently elected British Government announced the closure of the UK Film Council. There was some anxiety that the production might be a casualty of this, however, fortunately, the UK Film Council were able to maintain their investment in the film as well as their huge enthusiasm and support for it.  Shooting commenced in London in November 2010, just five month after the initial submission of the script.