Arguably the most highly anticipated Irish (or Anglo-Irish) film of 2013, “The Sea” will have its premiere on June 23 at the Edinburgh International Film Festival. John Banville’s adaptation of his 2005 Man Booker Prize-winner was filmed by first time-director Stephen Brown in its original setting of County Wexford, in southeast Ireland. Banville was born in the coastal county town of Wexford in 1945.
Belfast-born Ciarán Hinds heads the cast, which includes Sinéad Cusack (from County Dublin), Charlotte Rampling, Natasha McElhone, Rufus Sewell, Marie Missy Keating (the daughter of the Irish Boyzone star Ronan), and, in a pivotal role, Bonnie Wright (the erstwhile Ginny Weasley of the “Harry Potter” series).
Banville writes popular fiction (as Benjamin Black), plays, and screenplays (among them “Reflections,” from his novel “The Newton Letter,” “The Last September,” and “Albert Nobbs”). As a literary novelist, he has been compared to Proust, Nabokov, and Beckett. “The Sea”’s evocation of an unrecoverable past, which the narrator Max Morden (Hinds), a retired art historian, recalls with a deceptive nostalgia, is reminiscent of Proust, though Banville wouldn’t be drawn in on the Proust analogy in this interview.
The story is a convergence of three realities: Max’s recollections of his encounters as a sexually awakening youth with the long-gone Mr. and Mrs. Grace (Sewell and McElhone), their wild daughter Chloe (Keating), her mute brother, and the children’s teenaged nanny Rose (Wright); his present in The Cedars guesthouse, run by Miss Vavasour (Rampling), that had formerly been the Graces’ rented summer home in the seaside village of Ballyless; and his more immediate memories of the decline and death of his wife Anna (Cusack).
Sexual intrigues — or misperceptions about them — seep into his memories of the Graces and cloud his thoughts about Miss Vavasour and her only other guest, Colonel Blunden (Karl Johnson). A past tragedy jostles with Anna’s end; a revelation about the landlady is sprung. Signifying mutability, or flux, the sea, of course, is a metaphor for consciousness.
“The Sea” is competing for the prestigious Michael Powell Award at Edinburgh. As the director of “The Edge of the World” (1937) and “I Know Where I’m Going!” (1945), Powell demonstrated his ability to filter the aura of Celtic mysticism through his protagonists’ psyches and render it with subtle lyricism. Although there is no suggestion of faerie in Banville’s novel, it is ridden with ghosts. It remains to be seen how haunted a movie Stephen Brown has made it.