Tuesday, December 18, 2012


British writer/director Terence Davies has much in common with Terrence Malick.  Like his American counterpart Davies makes films infrequently (only six features released in 24 years); they are gorgeously shot, deliberately paced, and feel more like tone poems than narratives.  Both filmmakers make very personal films, but Malick’s are often obtuse and frustrating while Davies’ are relatable if often too slow.  Davies’ meticulous adaptation of the 1952 play by Terence Rattigan has all these qualities, but its languor becomes an asset thanks to a mesmerizing lead performance.  Set in 1950 London the story takes place during one fateful day and opens with Hester Collyer (Rachel Weisz), alone in her shabby flat, writing to her beloved that she wants to die.  She attempts suicide, but her nosy landlady Mrs. Elton (Ann Mitchell) foils the attempt.  We learn of Hester’s past in pensive flashback.  Years ago she married Sir William Collyer (Simon Russell Beale), a respected older judge with a domineering mother (the marvelous Barbara Jefford).  Hester cannot quietly acquiesce to her mother-in-law’s demands (or accept her husband’s passivity in the face of them) and feels stifled by the obligations of her elevated status.  She falls in love with Freddie Page (Tom Hiddleston), a former RAF pilot, who embraces excitement and flouts convention, and they begin a passionate affair.  Sir William discovers the infidelity and turns Hester out of the house, refusing to grant her the divorce she desires.  But Freddie, who suffers from what we now know as post-traumatic stress syndrome, also struggles under the yoke of expectation, both from society and Hester, leading to the crisis at hand.  Under Davies’ delicate direction Beale masks the dignified Sir William’s hurt with affection and kindness, while Hiddleston captures Freddie’s torment in civilian life and the burden of an all-consuming love.  But Weisz is revelatory, registering each of Hester’s contradictory emotions with crystal clarity.  As the post-World War II equivalent of Anna Karenina she carries the movie (and the audience) on sturdy shoulders through a quiet, harrowing heart of darkness.

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