Terence Davies has been called “arguably the most important British filmmaker of his generation.” His first feature film, “Distant Voices, Still Lives,” released in 1988, is regarded as one of the greatest films ever made.
Opening Friday, his new movie is “The Deep Blue Sea.” The deeply felt romantic masterpiece is drenched in memory, has an austere, sublime style and features Rachel Weisz’s finest performance to date.
Davies, recently in The City to promote the film, says it’s getting harder and harder to make personal movies: “You get the same thing: ‘Who’s in it?’ At one point, when I couldn’t get work for eight years, I said, ‘OK, I’ll cast anyone you’d like, but there’s a caveat. For the first two days, you direct them. You’ll see how difficult it is to get a performance from someone who’s wrong.’”
Of Weisz, he says, “She’s ravishing. And she’s lovely to work with as well, which is even nicer.”
Adapted from a play by Terence Rattigan, the movie tells the post-World War II story of a judge’s wife who falls helplessly in love with a former Royal Air Force pilot (Tom Hiddleston).
Initially, Davies was worried about reworking a theater piece for cinema. He says, “The thing with Rattigan is that he puts all his exposition in the first act. I thought, ‘A lot of this has got to go.’”
Happily, Davies was given permission by the Rattigan estate to “be radical with it.”
He adds, “Once I knew the subject was love, unrequited love in a ménage-a-trois, then I knew how to do it: None of them should be villains.”
A passionate movie lover, Davies names “Singin’ in the Rain” as both his first and favorite. But it’s a mystery as to how his quiet, thoughtful style evolved.
“It’s very difficult to look at your style objectively. It’s like hearing your voice,” he says. “I’m horrified. I sound like the Queen Mother... after she died.”
He contrasts different aspects of filmmaking. There are technical details involving lots of planning, but images and sounds comprising the finished product are instinctive.
“It has to be felt,” he says.
As for the critical status of his early films, Davies seems baffled.
“I’ve got no aesthetic distance,” he says. “I don’t feel as if it has anything to do with me. When I think of the films that I revere, there’s no competition.”
IF YOU GO
Starring Rachel Weisz, Tom Hiddleston, Simon Russell Beale
Written and directed by Terence Davies
Running time 1 hour 38 minutes