- The Washington Times - Friday, August 31, 2001

Actress Tilda Swinton avoids going off the deep end in predicting the success of her new movie."We don't know whether it's going to be popular or not," she says of the suspense thriller. "We'll have to wait and see."
But "The Deep End," in which Miss Swinton makes a compelling impression as a desperately resourceful mother named Margaret Hall, has waded beyond shallow waters in gaining recognition. Although the movie opened at only a half-dozen theaters Aug. 15, it expanded to about 60 locations around the country a week later. Favorable reviews helped it record the best gross-per-theater average ($11,053) of the 50 pictures tracked each week by the Hollywood Reporter.
The numbers are small compared with those of a pre-sold summer imbecility such as "American Pie 2," which churned up $60 million worth of business in the same opening weekend at 3,000 theaters — although its business plunged 53 percent the subsequent weekend.
The Scottish Miss Swinton has been schooled in patience. Much of her film career has been associated with bizarre choices and frequent sexual masquerades, beginning in 1985 with the costume melodrama "Caravaggio." It was directed by Derek Jarman, a flamboyantly homosexual British filmmaker who died of AIDS in 1994.
Independent productions she has adorned sometimes took years to realize — five years in the case of "Orlando," an adaptation of the Virginia Woolf novel that made Miss Swinton something of an art-house buzz item in 1992.
What now appears the plum, Oscar-beckoning role of Margaret Hall in "The Deep End" came as a rare stroke of serendipity in the immediate aftermath of her own introduction to motherhood. Miss Swinton has 3-year-old twins, a boy and a girl.
"The film isn't one we thought would be necessarily bought by a company as prominent as Fox Searchlight. … A strange grace came to me with this film. I just came on board. It was already written, already devised and funded," she says.
The character she plays, a military wife whose officer husband is stationed on a ship somewhere in the Atlantic, is left to her own devices during a criminally incriminating episode. She struggles to conceal the accidental death on her property — a house bordering Lake Tahoe on the California shore — of a disreputable Reno, Nev., club owner who has been involved sexually with her eldest son, a recent high school graduate.
Her immediate flurry of cover-up measures concludes with a shallow burial in a distant cove of the lake. The deceased proves too notorious a character to remain peacefully with the fishes. Mrs. Hall is confronted with a blackmail demand from one of his creditors, a reluctant agent of intimidation played by Goran Visnjic.
Miss Swinton concedes to feeling "a little guilty" about winning a role many American actresses in the eligible age range — late 30s to middle 40s — might consider a lost opportunity. Of course, many on that eligibility list might have been too expensive for serious consideration by the screenwriting and directing team of Scott McGehee and David Siegel, making their second feature.
"As far as I'm concerned, it's beyond price," Miss Swinton says. "Scott and David wanted me. They asked me to do it. … It was clear from the script that this deal promised something very interesting — just from its formal, classical scale. … It returns to that great tradition of a kind of domesticated film noir which seems to have fallen out of favor."
Miss Swinton's understanding is that this branch of mystery melodrama "was very lucrative for the studios at one time."
"I don't mean stories like 'Mildred Pierce' so much, although that was a big, popular example of its kind. We've stopped looking at women and mothers as attentively as we used to. For some reason, it's become unfashionable to look at the domestic woman's life," she says.
"It simply became more important with the impact of the women's movement to put women on the screen who were not necessarily expending their last drop of blood to maintain the status quo or some social pattern considered patriarchal. It became much more important to put women up there who were extraordinary, maybe more renegade or trying to shake things up in some sense."
The 41-year-old actress, the daughter of a Scottish military officer and a graduate of New Hall College at Cambridge University, believes a radical reassessment is appropriate. "I think it's important to look at those abandoned subjects and characters again," she says. "Now that I'm a mother, it's clear to me that certain things are not a political issue. … Women who become mothers will always feel a protective urge and a need to subordinate their desires to their children or families."
Not that she identifies completely with the lonely and self-sacrificing Margaret Hall. "She's kind of a closet femme fatale. I'm not her," Miss Swinton says. "I don't happen to be married to a military officer, although my father was one. I'm not obsessed with control. I do not subscribe to her brand of motherhood. I'm beyond looking vaguely similar to her prototype, the character called Lucia in the source material, Elisabeth Sanxay Holding's novel 'The Blank Wall.' But the issues are so similar to those I'm generally dealing with. I mean, identity, how to make friends with all your virtual selves, how to be an integrated person in general and an integrated woman in particular."
The first movie version of "The Blank Wall" was Max Ophuls' film "The Reckless Moment," released in 1949, two years after the book was published. Joan Bennett and James Mason had the roles now played by Miss Swinton and Mr. Visnjic.
"We're all scrupulously trying to steer clear of the wrong idea that this is a remake of 'The Reckless Moment,'" Miss Swinton says. "It is not. It is an adaptation of the same book.
"It's as though 'The Reckless Moment' responds to a certain aspect of the book and 'The Deep End' to another. Yet they're both faithful. The original heroine, Lucia, is a more socialized animal than Margaret. However, her internal voice in the novel is very strong, and I would say that it's this voice we've tried to emphasize and develop."
There's also a major plot change. The child in trouble in the original novel and film is a daughter rather than a son. "This rather dated thing of love letters from an 18-year-old girl to an older man didn't seem an adequate scandal anymore," Miss Swinton explains.
So an updated homosexual scandal emerged, also shifting the emotional balance in the two movies. In 1949, the strongest undercurrent was Mr. Mason's passion for Miss Bennett, his ostensible victim. Now it becomes Margaret Hall's bond to her erring but cherished son. Mr. Visnjic's attraction to the woman he's supposed to blackmail becomes more platonic and ambiguous, in part because his character seems to be entangled in an unsavory relationship of his own, with a malicious criminal mentor played by Raymond Berry.
"I would say everything is up for grabs," Miss Swinton says. "People can throw whatever they want at the movie. It's theirs now."


Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide