VOD film review: The Sea
Ivan Radford | On 19, Apr 2014
Director: Stephen Brown
Cast: Ciarán Hinds, Natascha McElhone, Bonnie Wright, Rufus Sewell, Charlotte Rampling, Sinéad Cusack
Watch The Sea online in the UK: Curzon Home Cinema / TalkTalk TV / iTunes / Eircom / Virgin Media / EE
Midnight’s Children. Life of Pi. If there’s one thing many Booker Prize-winning novels have in common, it’s that they are often considered unfilmable. At times, The Sea, based on the 2005 winner by John Banville, confirms it.
It follows Max Morden (Ciarán Hinds), a middle-aged man who returns to an old seaside guest house where he spent the summers of his youth.
Struggling to get over the loss of his wife (Sinéad Cusack), he wanders around the beach and the building in a long coat and even longer face. His malaise is interrupted by a range of people – some present, some past, some possibly both.
Charlotte Rampling sparks some spiky conversations as the enigmatic owner of the B&B, while Rufus Sewell has great fun galavanting around in Max’s sun-drenched history as Carlo, a womanising charmer with the attractive Connie (Natascha McElhone) on his arm. As they invite the younger Morden to hang out with them, the vibrant colours and longing glances at female companions hint that some kind of sexual awakening is on the cards. The melancholic piano score adds to the impression that The Sea is flowing somewhere steamy – but, more importantly, also somewhere tragic.
Stephen Brown shoots the sea with a sumptuous, shadowy lens, sapping the colour from the present day and saturating the past with it. But the deliberately languorous pacing and stifled atmosphere drain the life from the story too. Ciarán Hinds is wonderful as the washed-up widower, the weathering of time’s ebb and flow almost literally etched on his craggy face. “I’d hate to see her hospitality insulted,” another guest tells him. “The only thing I insult is my liver,” he rumbles back.
But even with Hinds’ thoughtful performance and Sinéad Cusack’s skilled delivery of Banville’s lofty dialogue – full of references to Pierre Bonnard – the impressionistic narrative loses its pull.
“You can’t be jealous of the past,” she playfully chastises him.
Is the problem that Banville adapted the book for the screen himself? Or is it simply that it is, like other Booker books before it, unsuited to the screen? Either way, The Sea is an impressive showcase for a talented cast and gorgeous visuals, but lacks a strong enough current to drag you along with it. By the time a feeling of resolution swims onto the sand, your interest has already started to drift with the tide.