Is there still Oscar hope for Rachel Weisz in ‘The Deep Blue Sea’?

If an Oscar-winner played an emotionally fragile heroine in a critically acclaimed, British period drama with literary cachet, you’d imagine she’d be a certain contender for Best Actress, wouldn’t you? Such is the case of Rachel Weisz in “The Deep Blue Sea,” adapted from a play by Terence Rattigan about a suicidal woman who leaves her husband for a younger man in the years following World War II.

Weisz won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for “The Constant Gardener” in 2005, but she hasn’t been nominated since. In “Deep Blue Sea,” she has what, on paper, looks like a sure Oscar vehicle, playing lovelorn Hester Collyer, who cries, pleads, and attempts suicide in her struggle to hold on to the affections of a passionate Royal Air Force pilot (Tom Hiddleston).

The critics were on her side. The film received a MetaCritic score of 82 and is rated 80% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, indicating widespread acclaim. Time’s Richard Corliss called her performance “superb,” adding that she “imparts intellectual acuity and, as Hester descends into depression, a saintly, forlorn fury.”

The New York Times’s A.O. Scott said, “Ms. Weisz, for her part, gives Hester a full melodramatic coloration without overdoing, conveying the essential split in the character’s nature.”

Entertainment Weekly’s Lisa Schwarzbaum added, “It helps that Weisz, in one of her finest performances, opens herself beautifully to vulnerability and folly.”

So why is Weisz not considered a major contender for Best Actress this year? Her first problem is the film’s March 23 release date. One of Oscar’s self-fulfilling prophecies is the expectation that Oscar contenders are released during the fall, which means most films released before September, and nearly all films released before the summer, are doomed to be forgotten.

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Consider: no woman has earned a Best Actress nomination for such an early release since 2004, when Kate Winslet earned a bid for “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” which opened in March of that year.

But “Eternal Sunshine” was far more widely seen. It made $34 million domestically and reached 1,353 theaters at its widest release, compared to “The Deep Blue Sea,” which earned just over $1 million and reached only 61 theaters.

That is the most crucial point. The most important factor in any Oscar race is getting on the Academy’s radar; voters won’t honor what they haven’t seen, and when inundated by screeners and studio campaigns during the fall months, it’s easy for an obscure March release to fall through the cracks.

“The Deep Blue Sea” was distributed by Music Box Films, which has never carried an Oscar nominee for acting. Is there still a chance Weisz will be the first?

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