Combustible Celluloid Interview - Terence Davies
Combustible Celluloid

Interview: Terence Davies

Getting 'Deep'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

March 9, 2012—Terence Davies has been called "arguably the most important British filmmaker of his generation" and his first feature film, Distant Voices, Still Lives, released in 1988, is now regarded as one of the greatest films ever made.

His latest, The Deep Blue Sea, is even more accessible. Featuring Rachel Weisz's finest performance to date, it's a deeply felt romantic masterpiece, drenched in memory, and with an austere, sublime style.

Davies, who recently visited San Francisco, says that 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, 'Okay, 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.'"

On finding Weisz for the new movie, he says, "She's ravishing. And she's lovely to work with as well, which is even nicer."

The movie tells the post-WWII story of the wife of a judge, who falls helplessly in love with a former RAF pilot (Tom Hiddleston).

Adapting The Deep Blue Sea from a play by Terence Rattigan, Davies says he was initially worried about re-working theater into cinema.

"The thing with Rattigan is that he puts all his exposition in the first act," he says. "I thought, 'a lot of this has got to go.'"

Happily, Davies was given permission by the Rattigan estate to "be radical with it."

"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," he says.

Known as 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 says that the technique of making a movie is one thing, planning the schedule, ordering a crane, etc. But in the finished film, the images and sounds are just 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. 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."

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