Wednesday, December 19, 2018

1979 TV Miniseries Review - Rebecca

Based on the book by Daphne Du Maurier
Starring: Joanna David, Elspeth March, Jeremy Brett, Hugh Morton, Richard Willis, Anna Massey, Terrence Hardiman, Vivian Pickles, Leon Sinden, William Morgan Sheppard, Julian Holloway, Virginia Denham, Sylvia Coleridge, Harriet Walter, Neville Hughes, Victor Lucas, Richardson Morgan, Robert Flemyng, and John Saunders
Release Date: 1979
Rating: ★★★★
Out of Print

Mrs. Van Hopper has her own friend of the bosom. Paid to be her companion, but really acting as her dogsbody. When Mrs. Van Hopper falls ill her friend catches the attention of widower Maxim de Winter and when Mrs. Van Hopper decides to head home to New York Maxim gives the young girl a choice; New York with Mrs. Van Hopper or Manderely with him. As his wife. She hastily marries Maxim and becomes the second Mrs. de Winter. Though she worries and frets that she won't be up to the job, especially once she sees Manderely in person and meets the housekeeper Mrs. Danvers. She feels overwhelmed and Mrs. Danvers does everything in her power to make things worse for her new mistress. It doesn't help that Rebecca has left her imprint everywhere, not just physically, but emotionally. She is in the hearts and minds of the staff, the locals, and even Maxim and his family. So much is expected of the new bride, even a lavish costume ball, just like Rebecca used to host. How is she to continue when Maxim is obviously questioning the wisdom of returning to Manderely? But is it the place or the new bride he regrets more? Only the revelation of a horrible secret will show the truth to the young bride. 

If you are looking for the most accurate adaptation of Rebecca you couldn't do better than this version made by the BBC in the late seventies if you tried, and oh how I've tried. While my heart will always belong to Alfred Hitchcock's version as the obsession of my youth, this one is now my favorite, in spite of the whole last episode being out of sync. This was just chock-a-block with 1970s BBC goodness. If shows like The Pallisers, The Duchess of Duke Street, and Upstairs, Downstairs are your idea of what quality TV should be, then this one's for you! There's a nostalgic quality to shows that went for acting chops over everything else. The sets might be recycled and familiar, yes, that is the window from the maid's garret in Upstairs, Downstairs in a dowdy room in Monte Carlo, and that is the drawing room from The Pallisers transplanted to Manderley with a desk hiding a certain broken cupid, but that just gives you the familiarity that makes this adaptation feel like coming home. While I had never seen this adaptation before, Jeremy Brett and Joanna David surrounded by so many actors I have seen for years and years on the small screen just made me giddy that for once I'd found a Rebecca with less to complain about that made me feel like I was visiting an old friend.

Though, this is me, so you know I will have something to complain about; and that complaint is Joanna David, though it's through no fault of her own. Or maybe a little because I didn't like how they bracketed the show with how she was telling someone about her dream about Manderley while wearing pearls, but that was the director's fault. So the reason I had issues with Joanna David was because of the 1997 adaptation of Rebecca staring Emilia Fox and Charles Dance. Emilia Fox not only played the second Mrs. de Winter, a role here played by Joanna David, but she happens to be Joanna David's daughter. I've never really thought of them looking too much alike, but watching this adaptation from the seventies, I'd occasionally catch a similarity, the way Joanna tilted her head or pursed her lips and I wouldn't be seeing her anymore I'd be seeing her daughter and seeing the same expressions flit across her face was almost unnerving. Oh, how I wish I had seen this adaptation first. Because to constantly remind me of the atrocity that was the 1997 adaptation is a sin. Yet it's a sin that, logically, I shouldn't hold against them because this other adaptation was almost twenty years in the future. But then again I am fickle. Thankfully Jeremy Brett is no Charles Dance.

Yet then there's the perfection of Anna Massey as Mrs. Danvers to make you forget your woes. If I were to gather up all the Mrs. Danvers she would win hands down. She is perfection without ever veering too far into the crazy skid. She's not self-immolating like Judith Anderson or the only bright, yet undeniably unhinged, spot in a horrid production like Diana Rigg. She's simply perfection. Because the truth is Mrs. Danvers is a real human, not a caricature, and despite all her actions, they are rooted in her connection and love for Rebecca, no matter how obsessive that love was. I first fell in love with Anna Massey's acting when I watched He Knew He Was Right. This is a pitch perfect adaptation of Anthony Trollope's book that I love so much I even mentioned it to David Tennant that time I met him. Anna Massey stands in the way of a marriage but will break your heart when she relents to the match. After this I started searching out her work and realized I'd seen her for years in everything from Midsomer Murders to The Darling Buds of May. Yet it's the scene in Rebecca's bedroom when she shows it off to the second Mrs. de Winter that she will destroy you with her range. Going from triumph to boasting to melancholy all in the blink of an eye. Grief as restrained madness. Perfection! 

You'd think with all this superb talent that everyone is perfection in the cast. Well, you'd be wrong because there's Jack Favell... Jack is usually the character that is always gotten right even in the worst of productions. But here? Julian Holloway isn't Jack. Not. One. Bit. Jack is a slimy character, a smooth operator who has no moral compass and you could easily see as jumping into bed with his cousin. Therefore he needs to be equally repellent and alluring. Here he's just repellant. He's a "good old boy" who you'd expect to see wandering around the grounds in plus fours! Rebecca wouldn't touch that with a ten foot pole! Oddly enough there's a modern equivalent acting today, Rory Kinnear. This Jack IS 100% like all the characters Rory Kinnear played for years. I have spent years bemoaning him being everywhere, especially in National Theatre Live productions. Two years ago I swear he was in every single production so I avoided that season like the plague. But for as much as I dislike him, annoying me to no end with his profuse body of work, he at least has range, and a few productions I actually liked him in. This proto-Kinnear? He has the range of a teaspoon.

There is one thing though, besides giving this version a proper release, that would easily upgrade it in my opinion, and that is if the music were fixed. The score of this adaptation is literally all over the place. At the beginning of the third part for about three minutes I thought they might have finally gotten it right and then it slid back into a mish-mash of styles. You will catch glimpses of Debussy, which might have occasionally worked, especially as it sounds like, according to my brother, that they might have been using "La Mer" which would be appropriate, but then as the happy couple approaches Manderely the music goes all old school cinema. You feel like you're watching an old reel where the dastardly villain is twirling his mustache while he ties the maiden to the tracks and waits for the train to arrive. I assume the train in this musicians mind is Mrs. Danvers, but who knows. It's almost comical in it's appearance. But for how much that music might have been too old school and inappropriate, don't worry, here are some synths thrown in to make it modern or to, I don't know, remind you it's the seventies despite the fact Rebecca doesn't take place in the seventies? Seriously, the music needs an overhaul.


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