Max (Ciarán Hinds) returns to the small coastal town where he spent his childhood summers, to come to terms with the recent death of his wife. While there, Max is reminded of one summer that was both perfect and horrifying, where he spent time with the mysterious and magnetic Grace family.
Based on John Banville’s Booker Prize winning novel of the same name, The Sea is a beautifully melancholy examination of memory and the impact that remembering has on us as people. Ciarán Hinds is the best he has ever been as the heartbroken, isolated Max. As Max slowly unravels under the influences of alcohol and grief, we learn more about his relationship with his wife, and his childhood summer by the sea. Hinds is honest and melancholy, an intoxicating mix. Sinead Cusack plays Anna, Max’s recently deceased wife, and she plays Anna as practical and logical, the exact opposite to her grief stricken, lost partner.
Charlotte Rampling, as Miss Vavasour – the owner of the guest house where Max stays – is gentle and caring, Natasha McElhone is vibrant and engaging as Connie Grace, Rufus Sewell plays Carlo Grace as a gin sodden, charming but troubled man and Bonnie Wright, as the children’s nanny Rose, is sadly underused, but endearing.
John Banville adapted his own novel for the screen, and has captured both the thrill of finding people to love, and who love you, and the pain of losing them. Young love and infatuation are gently observed in the film, and by contrast, Max’s grief at the death of his wife is almost painful to watch. Banville acutely observes the human condition in The Sea and, although the script often moves painfully slowly, this serves to underline the childlike belief that love will never end, and the adult fear that grief will last forever. That said, the film also feels a little self conscious at times, as though it is trying to live up to the fact that it is adapted from a dense and multilayered novel. Some of the choices made to reflect the power of memory jar at first, and it takes a little time to realise the connection between the two stories.
Stephen Brown, in directing his first feature film, allows the action to unfold, but keeps Max firmly at the centre of the story. These are his memories and this is his grief. Either story could have easily stood alone, but they are skilfully blended together, making The Sea an examination of grief and memory. John Conroy’s beautiful cinematography not only showcases Ireland at it’s best, but it reminds us of the rose tint that nostalgia can often give our memories. Andrew Hewitt’s score is both haunting and beautiful.
The Sea is a carefully observed film about the pain of grief and the idea that history often repeats itself. Banville’s admittedly flawed script and Brown’s direction make the film slow moving and filled with mystery, but this is part of the charm of The Sea.