Terence Davies, an actor turned filmmaker who directed his first short film in 1976, has made a mere six features since 1988, when he released his debut feature Distant Voices, Still Lives. Like his earlier shorts, Distant Voices was an autobiographical film about growing up in Liverpool in the 1950s, beautiful but somber and almost heartbreaking in its portrait of a family living in fear of its angry, alcoholic father.
The Long Day Closes, released four years later in 1992, isn’t a sequel in any literal sense of the term – none of the actors return and the names of the characters are all changed – but it nonetheless carries on the story of Davies family after the death of his father with the focus on a character absent from the earlier film. 12-year-old Bud (Leigh McCormack) is the youngest in a loving family looked over by an affectionate widowed mother (Marjorie Yates). A sweet, quiet schoolboy in love with the movies, he’s Davies’ stand-in in a film that offers a fictionalized reflection on what Davies described as the happiest days of his life.
Just like Bud, The Long Day Closes is in love with the movies. After a still life of an opening credits sequence that plays like an elegant tribute to the title sequences of films from the 1940s and 1950s, the familiar 20th Century Fox fanfare takes us into a rainy Liverpool alley plastered in posters. The fanfare segues into Nat King Cole singing “Stardust” as the camera glides down the alley at a graceful stroll.
The Deep Blue Sea (Music Box), adapted from Terence Rattigan’s play by Terence Davies, is ravishing and devastating, a romantic drama of impossible love between the cultured married woman (Rachel Weisz) and a hot-tempered working class war veteran (Tom Hiddleston) in the years after World War II.
The film slips back and forth through the story, as if “drifting in and out of memory” (as Davies describes it in his commentary), and the grace of his filmmaking enhances that quality of floating through her story, both in the moment of intimacy and looking back in hindsight. Davies connects on a deep, devoted level to Hester (Weisz), a woman who clearly married young to a much older man (Simon Russell Beale), a very proper judge from the aristocratic classes and old money. She only realizes how much she has missed out on the swooning ecstasy of love and passion and sex when her heart is carried away by Freddie (Hiddleston), a former RAF bomber pilot struggling to find his place in the post-war world.
All this is suggested rather than explicated as we tour her odyssey, which begins at her lowest, most desperate moment and drifts back on her tumultuous emotional journey. She very much likes her husband, a decent and affectionate and generous man, but she is brought to life by Freddie. Even when it is clear that any permanent relationship between them is doomed (their experiences are simply too different for their characters to bridge), she never wavers: love over compromise, even at the cost of such pain. Davies embraces her story as both tragic and liberating.