Dir. Terence Davies
Lying in bed at night with her adulteress lover asleep beside her, a young and beautiful wife suddenly leans towards her lover's back and licks his shoulder blade with the spontaneous delight of a small child savoring a surreptitious swipe at an ice cream cone. The woman, Hester (a loaded name if ever there were one) as played by Rachel Weisz, might offer up other scant tidbits from her childhood and background, but they are few. She comes to this particular romantic crossroads having giving us precious little in the way of understanding, which is just the way writer/director Terence Davies, working from a stage play by Terence Rattigan, wants it.
There is, after all, nothing more properly British than young and beautiful characters whose ideas of love and passion are thoroughly inexplicable. Hester is married to a well-thought of judge (Simon Russell Beale), an older man with a thoughtful streak and a serpent-tongued mother (Barbara Jefford), who makes no bones about her low opinion of Hester and her emotional intemperance ("Beware of passion," the older woman intones gravely, "it always leads to something ugly"). Sure enough, through this same burning passion, Hester embarks on a destructive affair with Freddie Page (Tom Hiddleston), a former WWII Royal Air Force pilot with an emotional imbalance of his own and a wicked temper, which ultimately leads her to want to end her life. In-between, we get glimpses of Hester's life -- the beginnings of her affair with Freddie, a moment with her husband, huddling down together in a tube station during the war, and so on -- but never anything that connects us to her as an affecting protagonist. She is yet another woman embarking upon a self-destructive affair with a man who doesn't understand her, end of story.
Indeed, the whole film seems to have been conceived as an actorly exercise in working from blank slates: All we know of Freddie is his bi-polar tendency to act like a spoiled child during a fight and then as a thoughtful and cautious man after it; all we know of the Judge is he cares deeply for his wife enough to try to convince her to take him back even after all she's done to him, but little else; and Hester, herself, is the greatest enigma of all. We don't know what prompted her to marry such an older, distinguished gentleman as the judge without having any passion for him, nor why she would choose to throw her life away on a reckless, immature man she acknowledges can't possibly love her the way she does him. In this crucial regard, the film offers little in the way of suggestion, other than director Terrence Davies' signature long, beautifully composed shots of sad, pale Brits in the full act of emotional bloodletting. As good as the principles are -- and Weisz and Hiddleston share some remarkable scenes together -- we cannot live on bread alone.