Restrained drama adapted from John Banville’s Booker Prize-winning novel
‘We’re known in Britain for making smaller films... Room with a View with a Staircase and a Pond-type movies. Films with very fine acting, but the drama is very sort of subsued and... subsumed? A word like that...’ So spake Lord Eddie of Izzard back in 1998, and so it remains today: while the British film industry has increasingly diversified its output (especially with filmmakers like Danny Boyle, Ben Wheatley and Richard Ayoade), a certain number of productions still cling to the genre of mannered, largely internalised drama. It can still be pulled off by the likes of Terence Davies (The Deep Blue Sea), but despite the similarity in name and a reliable cast of A-list thespians, Stephen Brown’s The Sea is a dreary and predictable affair.
Adapted by John Banville from his Booker Prize-winning novel, the story follows the recently bereaved Max (Ciaran Hinds) as he retreats from his woes to a stately guesthouse, owned by enigmatic landlady Miss Vavasour (Charlotte Rampling). The home is a relic from his childhood, where the young Max consorted with a family of his class betters and was ultimately party to another tragedy. As he comes to terms with one, so he hopes to come to terms with the other.
It’s the sort of thing that can play out well in prose, but ends up being dreadfully dull on film. Hinds and Rampling are suitably low-key, and character actor Karl Johnson puts in a decent turn as a more poignant version of The Major from Fawlty Towers, but the whole thing feels utterly derivative, from the contrast between the muted-palette and light-saturated flashbacks, to the spare, mournful piano-and-violin score. On a final note, we’re aware it can be a bit cruel to lay into child actors, so we’ll restrict ourselves to saying this: the ones here aren’t great.
The Sea had its world premiere at the Edinburgh International Film Festival 2013.