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Bland retelling of the 1940's film
on January 21, 2002
I'm almost embarrassed, considering all the highly positive reviews already posted here, to have disliked this version of Rebecca. I found it too mild in comparison to the film original, which admittedly was played as far too much gothic melodrama, so much so that it was laughable in places. Still, Judith Anderson as Mrs. Danvers was menacing. Here, Diana Rigg is just bitchy, stuffy and even rather distracted, like she's bored with the whole thing. This is revealing of the entire mood of this film, as if all the actors grow bored with the story. The initial scenes, where the unnamed heroine is supposed to be quietly infatuated and then in love with her hero, Maxim, are breezed over rather like they were an inconvenience. Faye Dunaway gets too much screen time in a minor role (Mrs. Van Hopper) that she performs with unnerving overacting. It seems like she thought that since it was such a minor role, she'd go wild in order to steal the whole film and catch the eye of Hollywood to revitalize her fading career. My opinion is that she merely delivered something she'd never done before, a clumsy and poor performance. Add to that, this portion of the story was at the mercy of the screenwriter, bearing little resemblance to the book. Nor is it particularly romantic. Charles Dance is miscast as Maxim De Winter, plodding through all his scenes as a rather dull, uninteresting individual rather than a man hurt and haunted by his past. His portrayal does not arouse the sympathies. He hints at no traumas but rather as having found the drama in his life as an inconvenience rather than a betrayal, a murder, and a cover-up. Olivier in the 1940's film has this role down far better. Too, Dance comes off as being far too old and stodgy for the role. Maxim was supposed to be in his forties. Dance has the looks of a man in his fifties and the bearing and maturity of a man hovering around sixty. This makes his love affair with a woman in her early twenties rather repulsive. It doesn't help that Emilia Fox, the heroine, looks so young and tender as if she were still in her mid-teens. We have a Lolita rather than a Rebecca. Early on, Dance as DeWinter states that he's twice the girl's age. I burst out laughing. Three times, I said aloud to the television. This was miscasting that is far too distracting. Whatever romantic scenes there are between these two look perverse. Add to that, nearly all other characters (many that were in the book were left out) are also of advancing years in order to keep up with Dance's age. When among them, Fox looks like an adolescent staying up past her bedtime. It is very difficult, then, to believe in the romantic aspects of the story. Other aspects were also a problem. Alfred Hitchcock, in the original film, had only about 2 hours to tell the whole story. He left out some very important elements, although Joan Fontaine as the heroine did her best to convey them -- the deep insecurity of the heroine about her attractiveness, her attire, her position in society, her position as spouse to a man who was married before and therefore is very comfortable as a husband while she is quite inexperienced as his wife. And her rich fantasy life. Add to that her uncertainty about dealing with a man who is not only haunted or has a bad temper, but who is occasionally verbally abusive and emotionally ungenerous. Even though there are 3 1/2 hours to this film, we don't get these interactions in this version. Instead, Fox's heroine vacillates between whining, demanding to be respected even though she's making no effort to mature or educate herself, and then running off from adversity like a child to shut herself into her room. The storyline just doesn't convey the character; and the characterization has no tension, no passions. Fox is bland, given to cute smiles now and then. She seems nearly oblivious. She doesn't appear to be able to fit into the drama that is unfolding around her, but then the drama isn't particularly noticeable. A mystery, an obsessed housekeeper, a distant husband and a beautiful dead wife. Fox's Mrs. De Winter, a focal point for it all, avoids drama by seeming dumbfounded, confused, and only slightly curious. Manderley, the commanding house, looks imposing and splendid in an external establishing shot, but the interiors are cramped and rather stagey and ordinary. This is too bad, since Manderley is so important to the plot, being not just the stage setting but nearly a character, since it motivated Maxim to murder. Jonathan Cake is an intrusion rather than a catalyst, playing the slimey Jack Favell, Rebecca's cousin and one of her lovers. Too, Cake does not do an original characterization; instead, he appears to be playing George Saunders playing Jack Favell -- he even has George Saunders' growling droll down perfectly. Looks like he studied the original film many times in order to give this copy-cat performance. A stronger, more resourceful performance from Rigg as Mrs. Danvers might have saved this production. However, someone told her to be cold and proper, unlike the Danvers in the book who was spiteful behind the housekeeper demeanor. I had heard that a previous TV version with Anna Massey was quite good. It is not currently available, so as far as this version goes, I'd advise you to skip it and read the book. The book is far more meaningful and entertaining. And Rebecca is now out in a revitalized version on DVD, for those who want melodrama and content to their films.