Sunday, January 27, 2013

"Rebecca" (1979) -- Initial Thoughts

I didn't even know this version of Rebecca existed until a couple of weeks ago, when I read a comment on an old post over at Old-Fashioned Charm that mentioned Jeremy Brett playing Maxim de Winter.  I quick searched YouTube, and lo and behold, you can watch the whole movie right there.  It's a TV version, and has not be released to DVD, so the YouTube version is not very good resolution, but it seems that it and grey-market copies are all that are available right now.  This is why most of my photos here are pretty crummy.

But who cares?  I have loved Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes ever since my junior year in college, when my boyfriend (now husband) introduced me to the Granada Television series.  A dozen years on, we own the whole series, and I'll be blogging about some of the eps for the Period Drama Challenge over the next few months.  Anyway, I couldn't wait to see Brett play Maxim de Winter, as I was quite sure he would be delicious.  And I was right!

Jeremy Brett as Maxim de Winter
Brett's Maxim is worldly, weary, and wonderful.  So Byronic I could bounce and giggle for joy.  Actually, I did just that several times while watching this.  You must understand that this character, in Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca, and Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre are directly responsible for my abiding love of Byronic Heroes.  Give a guy a dark past, have him brood, then offer him a chance at redemption (and possibly some romance), and I melt.

I keep digressing!  Sorry.  Been a long weekend, and I'm having trouble focusing.  Anyway, Jeremy Brett is about as perfect a Maxim de Winter as I can imagine.  Though I do really like Laurence Olivier in the 1940 version directed by Alfred Hitchcock -- it's my favorite Olivier role so far, and he has a far superior mustache to Brett, I must admit.  And it's been years since I saw that one, so I really shouldn't compare them -- I hope to rewatch that version again soon.

See?  Not focusing!  Argh!  Maybe I just keep getting sidetracked by thinking about Maxim's troubled, lonely gaze, or his anguished look when he tells his young bride the truth... sigh... swoon...

Right, need to focus.  Okay.  Let's talk about Joanna David as Mrs. de Winter, shall we?  She's very sweet -- many of you might know her from the 1995 Pride and Prejudice, where she played Lizzy's aunt, Mrs. Gardiner.  She's also in a Sherlock Holmes episode opposite Jeremy Brett, and I hope to watch that in a week or so, so I can see the two of them reunited.  She's very good as Mrs. de Winter, plain and awkward and uncertain, but so kind and thoughtful that you can see how a troubled soul like Maxim would be attracted to her.

Joanna David and Jeremy Brett
Okay, I'll stop here and explain the plot a bit to anyone who hasn't read the book or seen any version.  The protagonist, who never gets a first name, is a paid companion to a rich, boorish, middle-aged woman.  They're in Monte Carlo, sight-seeing, when she meets Maxim de Winter, who has recently lost his wife, the beautiful Rebecca.  Maxim marries her and whisks her off to his wonderful home in Britain, Manderley.  There, the new Mrs. de Winter meets the housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, who keeps telling her how inferior she is compared to Rebecca.  Eventually, the new Mrs. de Winter learns truth about how Rebecca died, and... no, I can't spoil it.

This is one of my absolute favorite novels.  I think it's the only story where I don't ever daydream that I'm part of the world and friends with the characters -- I daydream that I marry Maxim instead and handle everything perfectly and keep him happy forever.  It's the only story where I want to step in and replace a character, at least as far as I can remember.

(Random aside -- in the book, the girl tells Maxim her name, and he remarks that it's a lovely and unusual name.  In another of my favorite books, S. E. Hinton's The Outsiders, when Ponyboy Curtis tells Cherry Valance that Ponyboy is his real name, she also remarks, "That's an unusual and lovely name."  I love that connection.)

So anyway, where was I?  Unfocused and sleepy.  Right.  Well, the rest of the cast is quite good, particularly  Julian Holloway as Rebecca's loathsome cousin Jack Favell.  I also thought Anna Massey did a good job as Mrs. Danvers, though she seemed way too young -- Massey was 42, but I guess I've always pictured Mrs. Danvers as considerably older.

Anna Massey
(Interesting note -- Anna Massey was Jeremy Brett's ex-wife, and according to this website, they didn't speak to each other unless the cameras were rolling for the entire filming because they were disagreeing about a motorbike Brett had given their son.)

Old-Fashioned Charm
Okay, a quick note on the period costumes and things.  I think this is set in the 1920's or 1930's, based on the cars and clothes, and the fact that the book was published in 1938.  Most of Mrs. de Winter's clothes are simple, plain, and not elegant.  Maxim's clothes are expensive, but simple -- he wears mostly browns, a lot of suits, a couple of horrible turtlenecks (I happen to loathe turtlenecks), and some extremely wonderful hats.

Jeremy Brett in a snappy hat.
Here's a pretty good shot of the sorts of costumes this has.  Complete with a weird little fox-biting-its-tail thing, very period.

Mr. & Mrs. de Winter
One of the pivotal scenes involves a fancy dress ball, where Mrs. de Winter dresses up to match a painting of a long-dead de Winter ancestress.  She looks lovely, with her hair up and an exquisite dress -- and I can't manage to screencap anything that looks better than this image I found online, blast it.  At least it gives you some idea.

Mrs. de Winter and the painting she copied.
Anyway, because this is almost 4 hours long, it is able to follow the book a lot more faithfully than the 1940 version, putting in a lot of character development and detail that had to be glossed over earlier.  I very much recommend it, even though there aren't any good, clear copies available right now.  To whet your appetite, here's the proposal scene, which I find totally delicious:

When he says, "You still haven't answered my question," that's when I dissolve into a rather large puddle all 'round the computer desk.  Jeremy Brett's voice -- like buttered toast, salty and a little scratchy and delicious :-9

EDIT:  I forgot to mention whether or not this movie is family-friendly.  There are a few of the more traditional curse words, and since I'm trying not to spoil the plot, I'll just say that there are discussions of a couple of mortal sins, but not in such a way as to make the viewer blush.  Does that make any sense at all?


  1. I'm so excited! I quite enjoyed the book and am really excited to see that the whole thing is available on YouTube! *bounce up and down*

  2. Jeremy Brett as Maxim de Winter?!?! I had no idea! I love him, also from Sherlock Holmes. I still get a thrill when I hear those violins at the beginning. I also dearly love him in My Fair Lady. When he sings On the Street Where You Live, I positively swoon. Can't help myself. Thanks for the review. I will be watching, no matter what the video quality.

    1. I know! How did I not know this existed??? Totally worth watching, despite the crummy quality. I would listen to it without the video, even, just for his voice.



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