We started by asking him about societal differences between England in the 1950’s versus 2012. “What I think people don't understand is how traumatic the war was for Britain. When the war was over, Britain didn't get very much out of it – [she] lost her empire -- or let it go. We were a great power -- what completely shattered that was that [although] we’d won the war, we were financially broke.”
Still, Davies remembers well the struggles of those times, a period that hasn’t always been accurately portrayed on the silver screen. “I grew up then. I know what it felt like -- not just looked like. Very often, it’s recreated very badly – all the furniture’s pristine, for example. You could not afford furniture -- people didn't have that money. You might have had a radio in your house if you were lucky. Radiogram if you were very lucky. Lots of people still had gas. We had electricity, but only in one room. At the end of the ‘50s, [when] we bought a radiogram, the whole of the family had to put money towards it. We put the deposit down and paid it off weekly, the entire family. We had one record -- Sammy Davis, Jr. singing ‘That Old Black Magic.’”
Terence Rattigan, the playwright behind “The Deep Blue Sea,” was a major force in English theatre in the twentieth century, especially from the ‘30s through the ‘50s. At one point, he was the world’s highest-paid screenwriter. He’s now enjoying a resurgence in English theatre, following what would have been his hundredth birthday last June. “I’ve seen very little of the plays performed on stage. I knew him by film – the 1952 version of ‘The Browning Version’ is the best. The Burt Lancaster version of ‘Separate Tables’ -- that’s very, very good indeed – Rattigan co-wrote [it] with a man named John Gay,” and it attracted Oscar nominations for both of them. In Davies’ opinion, the films are actually better than the plays.
“Between the devil and the deep blue sea” is a more dramatic version of the more widely used metaphor today, “between a rock and a hard place.” The former seems somehow sexier, more dangerous, and Davies agrees. “ ‘Between the devil and the deep blue sea’ is more expressive. It’s more eloquent -- because what it means in a way is, what do you decide? How do you decide? And what if you decide the wrong thing? It then takes on, if not quite the world of [T.S. Eliot's] 'Prufrock' at least is a nod in that direction: the terror of being alive. And that is awful. If you've ever despaired that much -- and I’m sorry to say I have -- there are times when you think: the struggle’s too great; I can’t do it any more. And you long for some way out, some sort of solace. But ironically -- and what I find extraordinary about love – [Hester] remembers what it was like during the war, and can’t do it.”
For 72 nights in a row London was bombed: about 30,000 Londoners perished in the mayhem. Liverpool, where Davies is from, was bombed as well. “It was just pounded and pounded and pounded -- had they invaded in 1941, we’d have been occupied.” Our final question concerned the movie’s many quiet moments, during which the viewer can become transfixed by the most mundane of sounds: tea being poured, for instance, or simple voices in the background.
“[Back then] there was very little extraneous sound. People didn't have cars -- they couldn't afford them. When I was growing up, there was a pub at the end of every street and my family would go around seven and didn't come back until about half ten. I used to sit on my own and listen to the house settle into silence. Silence is very, very powerful. Hardly used now because people are terrified to have it [in film]. When all you hear are just little things. And I’ve always been fascinated by little details -- which in themselves are not important, but they carry a great deal of power.”
“The Deep Blue Sea” opens in select theaters on March 23rd.