Following on from John Jencks’ absorbing drama The Fold, comes another low-budget British production studying grief in a quite fascinating manner, as debutant Stephen Brown’s The Sea provides an insight into one man’s suffering with the loss of his wife, and how he revisits an old tragedy to help himself get over a new one. The death itself, however, is merely a catalyst for him to explore a range of other emotions, and to trigger a series of old memories.
The man in question is Max Morden (Ciarán Hinds), who decides to head back to the beachside resort where he spent his summers as a child, staying with Miss Vavasour (Charlotte Rampling), in the very same house he used to play in. His reason for returning is the death of his wife Anna (Sinéad Cusack), though while searching for serenity and peace of mind, his trip brings up a host of painful memories, of the one particular summer he spent with the Grace family.
Though certainly a thought-provoking and layered piece, Brown’s drama does grow to become somewhat convoluted, as we quite messily move between three different eras; the present day, flashbacks between Max and Anna, and then further back to when he was a child. Similarly to recent noir I, Anna in that regard, Brown leaves the audience to piece this story together, dropping hints as we progress. The common denominator between the two pictures is Rampling, though she is severely underused in this instance. Hinds absolutely steals the show however, with an emotive performance of the highest order.
A foreboding element remains prevalent in this title, as we’re fully aware that eventually, Max’s flashbacks will lead towards a disaster, given the brief images we are shown of Natascha McElhone’s Connie Grace, collapsing in complete despair. Combine that with Max’s evident breakdown in the opening sequence and we know that the film is heading towards tragic circumstances. This helps move the picture along, as while it does grow to become somewhat tedious in parts, our attentions are at least kept with the curiosity of how this feature may conclude.
Though a flawed piece of cinema, The Sea marks a quite promising debut for Brown, as a film that certainly stays with you long after the credits roll. It may not be completely engrossing or captivating, but the film, much the sea itself, can be brutal and forbidding at times, and serene as passive at others. Just sadly not quite enough of either.