Friday, December 21, 2018

1997 TV Movie Review - Rebecca

Based on the Book by Daphne Du Maurier
Starring: Emilia Fox, Charles Dance, Faye Dunaway, John Horsley, Jonathan Stokes, Diana Rigg, Tom Chadbon, Geraldine James, Denis Lill, John Branwell, Jonathan Cake, Kelly Reilly, Anthony Bate, Ian McDiarmid, Timothy West, and Lucy Cohu
Release Date: April 13th, 1997
Rating: ★
To Buy

The gregarious Mrs. Van Hopper has hired herself a mousy little companion to accompany her to Monte Carlo. Yet she's put out that the old crowd aren't around and then laid up with a sniffle. Her young companion uses this time to become close to the one person in Monte Mrs. Van Hopper is fascinated with, Maxim de Winter, the inconsolable widow and owner of the great house Manderley. When Mrs. Van Hopper decides to decamp Maxim gives the little mouse a choice, go to New York with her employer or come to Manderley with him as his wife. It isn't a hard choice to embrace being the second Mrs. de Winter, a choice that even Mrs. Van Hopper approves, because at least someone bagged him. Back at his luxurious estate in England Maxim's young new wife feels that the shadow of his first wife, Rebecca, looms large. But even despite the housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, and her doom and gloom, nothing can stop the newlyweds love for each other. That is unless Maxim is still in love with Rebecca... the discovery of Rebecca's scuttled boat in the bay will try their relationship, destroying everything or bringing them closer together.

The 1996-1997 season of Masterpiece Theatre was rare for me in that I caught it entirely. I was taking a year off before college and therefore had time to luxuriate in my much loved passions of reading and watching miniseries. The adaptation of Nostromo starring Colin Firth and A Royal Scandal starring Richard E. Grant were highlights that year. In fact when I recently learned A Royal Scandal was an extra on The Queen's Sister I instantly bought the DVD, despite my dislike of The Queen's Sister. Now if they'd just release Nostromo on anything other than VHS I'd be set because I'm seriously dying with only my old taped copy. But what I wasn't looking forward to was the season ending remake of Rebecca. This was at the height of my Hitchcock fanaticism, having taken film classes in high school and planning on taking more in college, and I couldn't comprehend why anyone would remake a classic.

Yes, Hitchcock didn't get it 100% right, but you can not deny that Laurence Olivier IS Maxim de Winter. It won best picture at the Oscars! So I planned to boycott the remake. The problem when living with your parents is that they have their own opinions on what they want to watch and seeing some of Rebecca turned out to be unavoidable. What little I saw made me instantly withdraw from the television room. My mom didn't last very long either, despite her love of Diana Rigg. For almost twenty years I have shunned this adaptation shuddering from the memory of those few glimpses. So I thought perhaps I should give it a second chance. Maybe Diana Rigg could be a superior Mrs. Danvers? Perhaps the beauty of Manderley would be done more justice in color with it's lush abundant floral growth? Or perhaps I should have trusted my gut reaction and avoided this piece of crap entirely.

What is striking about this adaptation is they have assembled some of the most talented actors in the British Isles and beyond and somehow sucked the life out of them. If it weren't for Faye Dunaway and Jonathan Cake I don't think a single line would have been uttered above a dull monotone. Rebecca is full of emotion and passion, both repressed and on full display, and yet here it comes across as the most flat and emotionless story ever. It should be turbulent and forceful like the sea, not fake and false like that shitty shack that was slapped together on the beach. After the first episode my dislike became more and more audible. Three hours and nothing went right. I was visibly cringing at all that they got wrong. The second Mrs. de Winter isn't just shy with a can do attitude but meek! Oh the rage! But even if I hadn't been comparing it to the book, it was awful. I kept making myself step back and think, if I hadn't read the book would I enjoy this? The answer was no time and time again.

While the heavy-handed foreshadowing might have been driving me loopy, if Du Maurier was still alive I know what she'd hate most... they made this adaptation into a romance. Yes, there are romantic elements in Rebecca, but that is NOT what the book is. The moniker of "Romance Writer" hung around Du Maurier's neck like a millstone her entire life. To have her greatest novel reduced to being nothing more than a romance? No. She would have snapped. Plus, I like Charles Dance very much, don't get me wrong, his performance of himself in Jam and Jerusalem, Clatterford stateside, is one of my favorite cameos on TV ever; but to see him groping and pawing awkwardly at Emilia Fox's cheek and sucking her face so that it looks like he's eating her. Eww. The book STRONGLY hints that the de Winters had a sexless marriage and yet here the demonstrative affection is overwhelming. It's the exact opposite of the book, yet oddly passionless. And that lame excuse made for their lack of children? Like Maxim would run into a burning building to save Mrs. Danvers? NO!

Yet, I have to give props where props are due. These go to Diana Rigg and Jonathan Cake, Mrs. Danvers and Jack Favell, Rebecca's maid and blackmailing cousin, respectively. I think these two actually read the source material, which Arthur Hopcraft obviously didn't when adapting this because who would purposefully change the famous introductory chapter and slap it into an upbeat coda? But enough about Arthur Hopcraft because this obviously ended his career if you check out IMDB. As for Hitchcock he proves that even the greats can get it wrong and he just didn't get Mrs. Danvers, and went camp and over the top. Diana Rigg nails it. The sadness that is behind that stiff facade. As for Cake, I don't think I can pay him a higher compliment than saying I really thought he WAS Favell. Rigg and Cake got the menacing down perfectly. Yet they also had the depth Du Maurier demanded of these characters. While they had the menace, they also had the vulnerability, and ultimately the patheticness of these two and how hollow their last act, destroying Manderley, really is.

But in the end, seeing as this miniseries was called Rebecca, you'd think they'd at least get her right? Yet they didn't. It's almost as if Rebecca is an afterthought. She should be front and center, there, oppressing Maxim and his new wife every single second of their time at Manderley, but she's oddly not there. It's like Mrs. Danvers and Jack Favell are the only ones who remember and it's only when they are around that Rebecca still lives. Otherwise it's as if she's long dead and long gone, not "haunting" them as should be the case. But this couldn't very well have been a romance if they concentrated on the Gothic nature of the book with Rebecca haunting Manderley now could it? As for when Rebecca actually appears... she's impressionistic and the camera is just too fucking close to her face. I wouldn't know it was Lucy Cohu, an actress I quite like who stared in the aforementioned movie The Queen's Sister, if it wasn't for the credits. Therefore we can say that like the book, there's a problem with Rebecca. Here it's her irrelevancy, there it's her possession of you body and soul. Let the book possess you and avoid this catastrophe. 


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