Terence Davies: The work of a legend

Director and Screenwriter Terence Davies

As we anticipate the DVD release of The Deep Blue Sea on April 2nd, the life and work of director Terence Davies is cast into the spotlight.

This is not a regular occurrence for the quietly-celebrated legend. While his name may not trigger waves of recognition, he is surprisingly still heralded as Britain’s greatest living film director. In his latest project, the maverick filmmaker paid homage to another legend, playwright Terence Rattigan, through his big-screen adaptation of The Deep Blue Sea.

It’s not surprise that Davies’ poetic take on Rattigan’s finest piece of fiction fell in the year of his centenary. It was an aptly-timed opportunity designed for us to reflect upon the talents of a fallen dramatist, but I instead find my thoughts wandering to the man behind the camera, the silenced artist, the ‘other’ Terence.

Global audiences know very little about this 66-year-old director and this is largely to do with his recent inexistence. The speed and exhilaration at which Spielberg churns out his feature films is a pace which Davies is less than accustomed to. Having competed only five feature-length films in 35 years, it seems he is using The Deep Blue Sea as his creative emancipation from an eleven year hiatus.   

The director manages to radicalise Rattigan and bring to life the tortuous realities of unrequited love. Set against a backdrop of post-war imperialist Britain, this tale of suppressed desire and unscrupulous eroticism follows through with a recurring Davies theme, where he seeks to satisfy a female audience by focusing on oppressed women. Much as Hester Collyer remains the narrative focus of The Deep Blue Sea, at the very core of all his art, Terence Davies is merely immortalising the idea of ‘a woman’s picture’.

His last attempt at non-documentary directing was over a decade ago with The House of Mirth. The Edith Wharton novel adaption focused on the struggles of a female protagonist battling social conventions.  Sound familiar?

While these ill-fated heroines bear striking similarities to one other, their greatest likeness lives within Davies himself. He is a man deeply disturbed by the concept of love. But it is this emotional anguish which allows his art to still be relevant today.

Undoubtedly, many will question the accessibility of both Rattigan’s and Davies’ cinematic flair in the age of populist filmmakers and 3D cinema.  Why should we watch a film about 1950’s Britain? A film with out-dated wartime attitudes, a film were where nothing is blowing up, nothing is tearing down, nothing is happening?

The answer is this. While we may no longer be bound by strict moral regulations and post-war sentiments, while our clothes, houses and attitudes may be distinctly different to that of the 1950s, the one thing that remains unchanging is the nature of love. The intensity of the emotion and what it drives us to do is the real story Davies succeeds in telling with The Deep Blue Sea.

People from past eras didn’t love differently to us, this much is evident from Hester’s actions. Her passionate love affair is not an inconceivable concept in modern society.  And just as infidelity still exists, modern women must still be torn in debating compassion over passion, stability over spontaneity, and love over lust. So what Davies injects into all his films is the idea that we are all bound by the timeless, and ultimately universal understanding, that love is what we all have in common.

But it’s Davies’ own battle with modern social conventions which are largely to blame for his recent lack of work. With a traditionalist attitude and a refusal to conform to the dominance of Hollywood, the eccentric independent film director suffered with long periods of creative inactivity.

Rachel Weisz as Hester

A decade on and The Deep Blue Sea emerges. It may boast a gleaming Hollywood cast, including Academy Award winner Rachel Weisz, but Davies himself couldn’t be further removed from the twinkling lights of Tinseltown. The Deep Blue Sea producer Sean O’Connor said: “Terence talks a lot about Hollywood films and about how they are effectively fast-food.”

The unhealthy process of manipulating emotions is what Davies steers clear of, instead harbouring a more natural approach. O’Connor adds: “Terence allows the audience to respond to it how they feel, rather than how they’re directed to feel.  It’s less emotionally evolved but more beautiful.”

Falling short of reaching mainstream superstardom seems to be the very least of Terence Davies’ worries. Intent on making films from the era of his childhood, his 2008 documentary Of Time and the City detailed his early life in Liverpool during the 1950’s.  By instilling a sense of nostalgia into all his projects, he manages to help audiences rediscover a neglected period in British history.  O’Connor said: “We’ve done the war to death in this country. We’re interested in what happens next.” And The Deep Blue Sea promises to depict exactly that.

On the surface, Terence Davies may appear as outdated as the 1952 Rattigan script he adapted but scratch a little deeper and you’ll understand why he’s come to be recognised as Britain’s greatest film director. When talking of Davies, Sean O’Connor said: “He is tricky but he is brilliant. When he is moved by something he will cry- unashamedly weeping in the street. And if he’s angry, he will be furious.” Such emotions have influenced the thematic direction of his work for over 36 years and now his latest project brings together these trademark qualities.

A film worthy enough to close the 2011 London Film Festival, what emerges from the depths of The Deep Blue Sea is the distant presence of Rattigan’s realm merging with the uncompromising capabilities of Davies’ ingenious.

The Deep Blue Sea is out on DVD from April 2nd 2012.

About The Author

Manleen is currently studying Journalism (BA) at London’s elite City University. As an avid movie fanatic, she is combining the skills taught within her degree to kick-start her career as a movie critic. She’s worked with some media heavyweights in the past, such as the BBC, CNN and Orange Film Club. Manleen has joined the team and takes on the role of news and reviews writer and social media promoter.

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