London 1950. Wartime rubble still litters the streets. We see this through the brown and hazy London fog. It rains, is cold, and always seems to be night.
He sees her on a lounge chair. He stares at her. She sends a slight smile his way. He steps up to her and proclaims she is the most beautiful woman he has ever seen.
And so it begins. She is married to a distinguished judge, much her senior. Too much her senior, in fact, for marital relations. He was an RAF pilot who is still living through those days. While jolly in that stereotyped British way, he seems without purpose or skill, other than as a pilot.
The story has often been told. The outcome is equally familiar. But there is no stopping its retelling--especially with Samuel Barber’s somber Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in the background.
The story takes place on a single day, months after she left her husband for the young pilot. She remembers it all in random flashbacks, after she had been saved from an attempted suicide.
There is nothing left to her life now. Her husband has divorced her, the pilot has moved on, and the rain still falls on the lonely streets of London. Meanwhile, wartime songs continue to be sung in the smoke filled pubs. “I’ll be seeing you in all the old, familiar places.”
The film is “The Deep Blue Sea,” adapted by Terence Davies from a play by Terence Rattigan. The woman is Rachel Weisz, the man, Freddie, is Tom Hiddleston. It is a film to be seen on a cold and rainy day in a town of similar conditions, like the one I find myself in now.
It will not cheer you up or help you resolve the conflict between reason and emotion. But it is a romantic tale that no matter how often and in what manner it is told is as much a part of life as anything else.
There is a scene in this film I’ll never forget. It is a long tracking shot in an Underground Tube station during a German air raid. The camera moves along the tracks focused on the barely visible groups of people huddled together in heavy coats, hats, and gloves, some singing, others playing cards, some standing alone, further and further along the tracks, as the bombs fall on the city above.
The story of Hester and Freddie reminded me of Robert Lowell’s poem Epilogue whose last lines are:
Yet why not say what happened?
Pray for the grace of accuracy
Vermeer gave to the sun's illumination
stealing like the tide across a map
to his girl solid with yearning.
We are poor passing facts,
warned by that to give
each figure in the photograph
his living name.