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THE SEA – Review

April 18, 2014

Film + Entertainment | by Francesco Cerniglia


The Sea, based on John Banville’s award-winning novel of the same name, is the sombre and often tense story of Max (Ciarán Hinds), a bereaved art historian who, after the death of his wife, Anna (Sinéad Cusack), visits a house he frequented in his childhood’s summers, owned at the time by Carlo (Rufus Sewell) and Connie (Natascha McElhone), an eccentric couple with a spoilt daughter, Chloe, and her mute brother, Myles. The film shifts between Max’s difficulty coming to terms with being aged and alone in the present day and the traumatic events he witnessed as a boy near the house he had loved so many years before.

What’s refreshing about this film is the way it treats long-term love: not as a maudlin ode to the supposedly fundamental permanent nature of never-ending true love but a realistic portrayal of the ambivalence that haunts any long-term relationship, without compromising the integrity of it. The story does not shy away from the difficulties they have had, addressing the conflict between missing a person who has gone and resenting them for having left you behind. It successfully gives the feeling that there is an awkwardness and discomfort leading up to Anna’s death that she wishes to discuss but Max cannot because he feels his duty is to merely be a pillar of support. His inability to voice his feelings is followed up suitably by his disposition to turn to alcohol for support. It begins to become apparent that the connection between his present life and his past life is an overriding sense of guilt and anxiety about what could have been done.

What was slightly disappointing though was that the atmosphere of the film left little space for the performances to really develop and breathe since at times it seemed choked by the gaudy colour filtering of the flashbacks and the stereotypically solemn piano music (although these things in themselves didn’t take too much away from the film as a whole). There are certainly a fair few actors of a very high calibre but it felt like the 87-minute film didn’t quite give them the room to do what they do best and their commendable performances seemed, at times, poorly framed. Perhaps this was effective for the vapid, self-loving couple who float about doing exactly as they please until their whole world is turned upside down but it seemed inappropriate for the other characters’ portrayal. Bonnie Wright’s lacklustre performance as the children’s nanny could perhaps have been improved with more lines or screen time but it seems likely that she was brought to the film due to her leftover star power from the Harry Potter series.


The film’s only other real let-down is the implausibility of the ending. It does not by any means ruin the viewing experience but it is a moment in which I had trouble suspending my disbelief – a moment where I found myself divorced from the inner world of the film. However, it does affect you with a feeling similar to the one Max seems to be experiencing in his present day: a sense of detachment. The fact that the film leaves us with little sense of resolution is just an indication of how peace cannot be found simply in a long weekend away and how looking into the past can be as difficult and unfulfilling as living in the present.

The Sea is out in UK cinemas on April 18

Catherine Bridgman