Star rating – 8/10
This is a very stylish and well acted version of Rattigan’s original play. It is beautifully shot to reflect the period just after World War II when London was full of bomb damaged buildings and everything seemed to be sepia tinted. As with many of Rattigan’s perfectly observed works, this is the sad tale of love that can never be, and of people who are not just good for each other.
Rachel Weisz is her usual brilliant self as Hester, the upper class young wife of an older successful judge who swaps her title, position, and privilege for the love of a young man. Tom Hiddleston is perfect as Freddie, the dashing ex air force pilot who cannot possibly offer Hester anything like the stability, comfort, and love that her husband does. But she chooses him nevertheless, and thereby condemns all three to unhappiness, as the price for a brief passion.
If you imagine what would have happened if Celia Johnson had left her husband and gone off with Trevor Howard on that train in ‘Brief Encounter’, and then add foul tempers, insecurities and alcohol to the mix, you are getting close. The costumes and feel of the period are lovingly recreated, and it is ravishing to look at. There are some great scenes in the local pub, where Hester is trying to fit in with the locals but doesn’t know the words to their songs.
I did have a slight problem with the score, which was a bit melodramatic and used to signpost moments of great tragedy when really the acting on screen was doing that in spades on its own. And at times the dialogue and action seemed slightly laboured, which is not what you expect from Rattigan at all, and is an unfortunate result of the way director Terence Davies has transposed the theatrical moments to celluloid. But all in all this is an excellent, classy film, although of necessity bleak in its message and delivery.