It is rare that an adaptation of a novel gets things right. Often one feels that they shouldn’t have bothered to buy the rights to the book at all if they were just going to change everything. Thankfully, that is not what ITV does in the 1997 adaptation of du Maurier’s most famous novel, Rebecca. This is the third adaptation of the novel after Hitchcock’s 1940 version, the most famous amongst the adaptations, and the 1979 BBC version.
This adaptation is perfectly cast, with Emilia Fox as Mrs de Winter, Charles Dance as Maxim de Winter and Diana Rigg as Mrs Danvers. Interesting, Emilia’s mother, Joan David, had played the same part in the 1979 version opposite Jeremy Brett. What Hitchcock’s adaptation understood was that Rebecca is not and never was, a romance novel. du Maurier remarked in annoyance that her novel should never be considered such a thing. And thankfully the 1997 version recognises and respects du Maurier’s assessment of her own work, but does not try to mimic the shadowed gothic noir of Hitchcock’s.
What it does is recognise that it firstly has brilliant source material to work from, which has elements of suspense, thriller, murder mystery and a feminine bildungsroman. It also recognises that it has a superb main cast, which needs to be highlighted and focused on. While Joan Fontaine will always be my favourite Mrs de Winter, Emilia Fox is fantastic in the role. At first I thought she came across as too worldly for the gauche Mrs de Winter, but then I realised that she was showing how Mrs de Winter is a woman-child. She may want to project an air of worldliness, and she may say things that seem mature, but Emilia shows that these things are always said and done in the hope of hiding her inexperience and her anxiety. She also shows how devoted to Maxim Mrs de Winter is, but how this devotion is filled with caution and a lack of self assurance. Her facial expressions are wounded, confused, childlike and cautiously happy. With her slightly flipped bob and almost dowdy clothes, she is the embodiment of the character. In the end she shows her maturation in a way that is very subtle and natural, the way she walks, the manner in which she finally interacts with her husband in comfortable familiarity.
Judith Anderson is a joy to watch as Mrs Danvers, but Diana Rigg manages to convey the terrible sadness and loneliness of Mrs Danvers in such a powerful way. She shows that Mrs Danvers is not a straightforward villain. Like Maxim, she is haunted by the spectre of Rebecca, but she invites it, nurses it, obsesses over it. Rigg shows that this in the way she talks, the expression on her face as she regards her mistress’ inferior, and that unforgettable voice is used to convey so much seething emotion. Rigg makes herself look larger, more intimidating, she looms over Fox, like a consuming shadow. The scene in which she weeps over Rebecca’s death is particularly memorable, hers are the tears of a husk, a broken being. She is indeed just a shadow, a receptacle to memories she has obsessed over.here to read everyone’s fabulous contributions in honour of this fabulous author.