Deep Blue Sea stars Tom Hiddleston and Rachel Weisz

Tom Hiddleston and Rachel Weisz in The Deep Blue Sea (Mongrel Media)

Here is the great thing about The Deep Blue Sea: It doesn't care, even the tiniest bit, that it has superstars in it. A modestly budgeted and insistently idiosyncratic tale of love and loss set in post-war London, Terence Davies' adaptation of a Terence Rattigan stage play is entirely concerned with the emotions raging in its characters' hearts.

The thing is, its characters are played by Rachel Weisz, the Oscar-winning star of The Constant Gardener, The Fountain and this week's The Bourne Legacy, and Tom Hiddleston, who vaulted to global stardom in the last year as the infernally complicated villain Loki in Thor and The Avengers. Which means the profile of Davies' film is now much, much higher than it was when he made it.

This is an excellent bit of luck, because The Deep Blue Sea is a terrific movie. Unlike certain pre-packaged star vehicles that are designed to put one very famous actor in a room with another very famous actor -- I'm looking at you, Revolutionary Road -- Terence Davies just wants to tell his story of an anguished woman (Weisz) who has left her well-to-do husband (Simon Russell Beale) to live and love a working-class fellow (Hiddleston) who still hasn't come all the way back from the war.

It's the sort of swooning drama -- and obsessive historical re-creation -- in which Davies has specialized for a quarter-century. In films like Distant Voices, Still Lives and The House of Mirth, he's built spaces for quiet contemplation of both an era and a state of mind. In The Deep Blue Sea, that era is "London, Around 1950" and the state of mind is that of awful, uncertain desperation, as Weisz's Hester Collyer is tormented by the knowledge that she's destroying her safe, carefully appointed life for a tempestuous but fulfilling relationship with a man who wants her, but may not be able to love her.

That's a challenging idea for a mass audience, and coupled with Davies' characteristically glacial pacing, The Deep Blue Sea may have some viewers ripping the disc out of the player before the end of the first reel. But if you stay with it, the rewards are tremendous, with both Weisz and Hiddleston giving complex, emotionally immediate performances as a woman reeling with the possibility of living a sensual life and a brash young man who's been altered -- perhaps irreparably -- by his wartime experiences. And given the lush, vivid way in which Davies presents them, I suspect that Hiddleston would have emerged from this film as a major star even without the Marvel movies on his resume.

It would be terribly unkind to downplay the work of Simon Russell Beale. As a fundamentally decent person struggling with the knowledge that he's losing his wife to another man, Beale's character is just as fully realized as those played by the movie's stars; it's just that the story relegates him to a peripheral role. But Beale -- whom you may recognize from his appearances in Orlando or My Week with Marilyn -- is easily the dramatic equal of Weisz and Hiddleston; watching the movie, I realized I'd be entirely happy to see Davies return to this world for a drama that retells the story from the outsider's perspective.

That's the kind of movie The Deep Blue Sea is -- one so rich in character and detail that you don't want it to end. If you're only watching it for the love scenes between Weisz and Hiddleston, you may have a very different reaction... or you might get lucky and fall under the spell Davies casts from the very first frames. He's very good at this sort of thing, you know.

E-mail Norman Wilner at houselightsup@hotmail.com