Daphne du Maurier’s Craziest Version of ‘Rebecca’ Starred Maniac Diana Rigg

[Warning: Contains spoilers for the plot of Rebecca.]

Daphne du Maurier Rebecca may not be filmable. I know, it’s a strange thing to say about a novel that has been adapted over and over again for film (and once won the Oscar for Best Picture), for television, and for radio. But think about it: if any of those productions were absolutely right, there wouldn’t have been a scramble for a remake. On the contrary, I think the producers, writers and directors think that these previous versions missed the mark, and that they gonna nail it. And so the remakes continue, including a new version from Netflix that’s so cautious and conventional that you wonder why anyone bothered.

What all filmmakers ignore or feebly try to make us forget is that Rebecca succeeds as a novel because it’s in the first person. This is subjective as only a novel can be, and by being stingy with his adjectives about the narrator – who does not even have a name – du Maurier encourages us each to invent our own image of the second Madame de Winter. And the more you try to imagine it, the more you identify with it. The cinema, for its part, is objective: “Me”, the narrator of the novel, becomes “she”, the actor on the screen. Even when the film tries to support her point, she is a specific person with qualities of her own. You sympathize with her, but it’s as far as you can go, whereas for a reader it’s not about sympathy: you completely identify with the narrator of the novel because you made it your own.

Film versions of Rebecca, at least the four that I saw (there is also an Italian production), all start off like the novel, with a narrator telling us, “Last night I dreamed I went back to Manderley.” After that they go their separate ways and with extremely varying degrees of success.

The 1940 version of Hitchcock was the only one to be shown in theaters. The rest was for television (there were also several truncated one-hour versions in the early years of live television, and there were also many productions of the story on radio, including one from Orson Welles). There are some plot differences between the four versions, most notably in the Hitchcock treatment: Maxim doesn’t shoot Rebecca, as he does in the book and in most subsequent Hollywood variations – after a fight, she dies afterwards. falling and hitting his head. To satisfy the Hollywood production code, which dictated that a protagonist couldn’t be a murderer and get away with it, Rebecca’s death had to be an accident somehow.

Rigg certainly gives you something to see: a landscape chewing performance so over the top you wonder if they haven’t paid for it in scenery.

And in that weird way that movies have to erase – in our minds at least – the plots they’ve pulled from novels and stories, all movie endings of Rebecca I’ve seen Hitchcock take inspiration, not du Maurier: Mrs. Danvers not only sets Manderley on fire at the end, but also perishes in the fire. No, that’s not how it turns out in the novel, but who remembers it now?

It should be noted that after filming Rebecca, Hitchcock vowed that he would never film another bestseller, in large part because its producer, David O. Selznick, insisted that the film stay as true to its successful source material as possible. Hitchcock’s attempts to play with the plot came to naught.

The biggest differences in the versions I have watched are in the casting. Each film is usually half right: a good performance by the second Mrs. de Winter but a questionable Maxim (at Hitchcock’s), or vice versa. Jeremy Brett (in a made-for-television version of 1979) and Charles Dance (in the 1997 miniseries) are both good Maxims, and Dance is the only one of the right age – since he’s over 20 years the eldest of his partner, it makes sense for once when he treats his fiancée like a child. The only notable thing about the new version of Netflix is ​​that it is wrong twice: the two stars are badly distributed.

The Best All Around is the 1979 version starring Jeremy Brett, Joanna David and Anna Massey. (Because the rights are tied in some way, I could only find it on YouTube.) Brett pulls off the same trick he later achieved by playing Sherlock Holmes indelibly: he finds ways (starting with one of the most seductive voices of all actors. eu) to seduce us and repel us all at the same time. Joanna David isn’t as electric as Joan Fontaine, but she’s less neurotic – she can’t seem like she can have a nervous breakdown all the time – and so she’s more identifiable: she’s just overwhelmed and scared and feels vaguely cheating, and who can You do not identify with that?

Only the 1997 version spoils the secondary characters. Faye Dunaway plays Ms. Van Hopper not as the usual social climber, but as a loud, rude and drunken social climber. You almost like it. And then there’s the late Diana Rigg with an Emmy-for-the-ages-winning Mrs. Danvers.

Equipped with a horrid sort of bob / hat hairstyle, skull-shaped face, and scarecrow body, Rigg is the closest to the book description of Manderley’s Wicked Maid. But where the other Mrs. Danvers in others Rebeccas are all malicious Indians in the cigar shops, Rigg totally plays it in a “Rebecca is mine, mine, mine!” sort of way. The lesbian subtext is no longer a subtext. Besides, there is no subtext of any kind. What you see is what you get, and Rigg certainly gives you something to see: a landscape chewing performance so over the top you wonder if they haven’t paid for it on stage. What is amazing is that this comedy game, as funny as it is, is also terrifying.

Rigg has had an oddly shaped career, with fame early and late, first as an incredibly smart and sexy secret agent of The Avengers in the 60s, and ending up as old queen Olenna Tyrell The iron Throne five decades later. She had come to The Avengers of the Royal Shakespeare Company, and after this series was discontinued, she spent most of the rest of her life as an acclaimed stage actress, taking on the occasional film role but obviously not taking film very much. serious. (Jobwise, she was sort of the wife of Peter O’Toole.) But no matter what she’s into, she’s still a pleasure to watch, whatever. Dark house or The Grand Muppet Caper, and the pleasure she has in bringing Mrs. Danvers up is contagious. You hate to see her leave a scene and you can’t wait for her to come back.

I finished watching this Rebecca not so much because I cared about the miniseries but because I hadn’t known Rigg’s performance before I started researching this item, and it was a wonderful surprise, sort of a posthumous gift from a always surprising actor. Which is another way of saying that several RebeccaIt might not be a bad thing after all: you never know who is going to show up and do something awesome.

There will never be a real one Rebecca just like there will never be the one true Hamlet. For while du Maurier may not have been Shakespeare, she was a prodigiously talented fiction writer whose mysterious and disturbing tales continue to captivate readers more than half a century after their publication, including filmmakers who recognize the right stories when they find them. Indeed, it is a kind of compliment to du Maurier that the films made from his fiction, including The birds, almost never up to the originals, with the notable exception of Nicolas Roeg Don’t look now, the only movie as good as the story it’s based on.

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