Based on a 1952 play by Terence Rattigan, The Deep Blue Sea tells the story of a distraught woman in 1950s England who leaves her wealthy, distant husband, for a dashing but insensitive Royal Air Force pilot. The film’s director Terence Davies talks to A.A. Dowd about his first narrative feature film since The House of Mirth (2000).
How did you land on The Deep Blue Sea?
The Rattigan Trust approached me. They said, ‘Would you do one of the plays for his [Terence Rattigan’s] centenary?’ At first, I wasn’t convinced. The Deep Blue Sea is a rather unremarkable story. The whole of the first act is exposition, which I simply find dull. But I thought if I could do it from Hester’s point of view, then all the exposition could go.
Have you seen the original 1955 version?
It’s awful! All [director Anatole Litvak] has done, in fact, is photograph the play. What’s the point? And it’s got a dreadful performance by Vivien Leigh.
How did you pick Rachel Weisz for Hester?
I don’t watch much television, but one particular night – it was a Sunday night – there was this film on [Swept from the Sea]. And this girl came on. This luminous face, these wonderful eyes. And I thought, God, isn’t she fabulous? I rang my manager and I said, ‘Have you heard of someone called Rachel Weisz?’ He said, ‘You’re the only one who hasn’t.’
And Tom Hiddleston?
With [the character of] Freddie, I had to see a lot of people. And that was pretty dispiriting. Young actors in England have got this idea now – God knows where they’ve got it – that you change the lines to suit you. Hang on, that’s not the way it works. You’re supposed to be finding the character. And I really did despair. And then Tom came in. We read the scenes together and we found Freddie. It was as simple as that.
| Tom Hiddleston and Rachel Weisz
There’s a recurring motif in your films – both in this new one and in your autobiographical features – of characters finding solidarity in group sing-alongs. Was this a common pastime in the ’50s?
It certainly was. Working-class people went to the pub on the weekend. And you sang! You sang all the songs that you loved. It was usually the Great American Songbook, poetry for ordinary people. And that was absolutely common. And they didn’t think, ‘Oh, I’ve got a voice, I’ve got to be famous.’ They just enjoyed singing. Not now, that’s gone.
Will you ever make another autobiographical film?
No, I’ve done my life in Liverpool. I was a very devout Catholic. I really did pray until my knees bled, because I wanted to be cured of being gay. I’ve never been happy with it. In a working-class family, it really was something that was never talked about. And I don’t even want to think about going through that again. What’s happened, though, is that the things that affected me as a child have come out in the films.
All your films are period pieces. Will we ever see a Terence Davies movie set in contemporary Britain?
The England I grew up in has vanished. Even after the war – I was born in ’45 – people behaved properly. And I miss that. It’s gone from England. We’re the most uncivilised country in Europe. I love my country very much, but I’m its severest critic. And it’s imploded. The reason we’re obsessed with the Second World War is that was the last time we were important.
In your essay-doc Of Time and the City (2008), you claimed to hate the Beatles. Were you kidding?
No! One of my sisters took me to see Jailhouse Rock with Elvis. I was only 11 and cringed all the way through it. And the Beatles came out and they were even worse, even more banal! Devoid of any discernible talent, as far as I’m concerned. I hated them then, and I still hate them. I hate them with a passion!