THE SEA

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM - DON­ALD CLARKE

Di­rected by Stephen Brown. Star­ring Ciaran Hinds, Char­lotte Ram­pling, Natascha McEl­hone, Ru­fus Sewell, Sinéad Cu­sack

12A cert, QFT, Belfast; IFI/IMC Dún Laoghaire/ [email protected]­drum/ [email protected] Swords, Dublin; [email protected] Gorey, Wex­ford, 86 min In re­cent years, John Banville has turned to writ­ing crime fic­tion of a noirish hue. Some­what sur­pris­ingly, this ef­fi­cient, el­e­gant adap­ta­tion of his Booker Prize-win­ning 2005 novel makes some un­in­tended ges­tures to­wards other cor­ners of the thriller genre.

Con­cern­ing it­self with an art his­to­rian who re­turns to the town where he spent much of his child­hood, The Sea ini­tially comes across like one of those Bar­bara Vine sto­ries that con­stantly hint at some “aw­ful event” in the dis­tant past. The film doesn’t quite deliver on that ac­ci­den­tal prom­ise (why should it?), but the act­ing is of such a high cal­i­bre and the emo­tions so raw that the film proves hard to re­sist.

Max (Ciaran Hinds) ar­rives at a grand board­ing house and be­gins coiled ban­ter with the el­e­gant land­lady (Char­lotte Ram­pling). The triple-pronged story moves from the as­sumed present to Max’s last days with his re­cently de­ceased wife (Sinéad Cu­sack) and back fur­ther to child­hood times spent with the ec­cen­tric Grace fam­ily. Nice Con­nie Grace (Natascha McEl­hone) and mildly crazy Car­los (Ru­fus Sewell) wel­come the young Max into their fam­ily as a com­pan­ion for their own two chil­dren. Some sort of sex­ual awak­en­ing seems in­evitable be­fore the “aw­ful event” takes place.

Ev­ery­body in The Sea is ter­rific. Hinds is never bet­ter when brood­ing over barely con­tained trau­mas, and his loom­ing pres­ence gives the film im­pres­sive weight. McEl­hone and Sewell cap­ture an an­cient class of glam­our that didn’t sur­vive the 1970s. Cu­sack’s ver­bal jousts with Hinds sug­gest fur­ther un­ex­pressed be­tray­als.

All those pos­i­tives noted, The Sea, as scripted by the au­thor, never feels like any­thing other than a lit­er­ary adap­ta­tion. John Con­roy’s cine­matog­ra­phy hints at the im­pres­sion­is­tic aes­thetic of Pierre Bon­nard – of whom Max is pre­par­ing a study – but we are al­ways striv­ing for in­ner worlds that, ex­pressed fully on the page, re­main stub­bornly in­ac­ces­si­ble to the cam­era.

A work of qual­ity nonethe­less.

The old rul­ing class: Ru­fus Sewell and Natascha McEl­hone in

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