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Dear friends and readers,

I write to recommend the really fine movie, Daphne, as an intelligent moving evocation of Daphne DuMaurier's character, inner life of her books, mores, life and Cornwall.  

Geraldine Somerville as Daphne DuMaurier, retired to her hut on her estate to write

Based on Margaret Forster's excellent literary biography and DuMaurier's letters/ournals as turned into a screenplay by Amy Jenkins, produced and directed by Clare Beavan, this is one of those BBC 2009 films intended to be haunting,  and is beautifully acted by Geraldine Somerville as Daphne (she played Emily in the 1999 mini-series Aristocrats), Janet McTeer as Gertrude Lawrence, Elizabeth McGovern as Ellen Doubleday, Malcolm Sinclair as Noel Coward, Christopher Malcolm as Nelson Doubleday, and Andrew Haville as Tommy Browning (Daphne's husband).

What's good about it:  it centers on a slice of Daphne's life organized around the trial she had to endure when accused of plagiarizing Blind Opinions for Rebecca.  The experience is deeply troubling:

The story leads up to this, the prosecution provides one of the movies' crisis: she is led to go to NYC and meet and stay at length with Ellen Doubleday whom she falls in love with:

Ellen Doubleday (Elizabeth McGovern)

Daphne's vindication is intertwined with another relationship that emerges from her New York time:  at a party she meets Gertrude Lawrence who turns her off:

Noel Coward (Malcolm Sinclair) introducing Gertrude Lawrence (Janet McTeer)  to Daphne

The false accusation is presented as a false way of seeing DuMaurier's work, all wrong.

The adequate way of understanding DuMaurier's books slowly emerges from the story:  as in Margaret Forster's biography, the idea is that Daphne identified as a young boy in her relationships with people, and while she appeared to be all repressed and "buttoned up" in self-presentation, there was a strong free boyish spirit wanting to find a strong woman to be with -- to have sex with.   

The movie's structure is one familiar from women's works: it's circular. It opens with Daphne opening a letter which tells her someone is dead; she stands in front of Menabilly; she goes to her room to find her husband, Tommy, looking at photographs of her with someone, and she flees to the landscape

then the movie dissolves into 7 years earlier.  We move from Tommy coming home from war and the two of them not being able quite to re-create an older relationship. She has written her most famous novel, Rebecca already and is know as the novelist of this novel.  This is irritating to her. Her publisher, a crass coarse but good-natured man, Doubleday calls about this prosecution and she's off to New York.

We see the reality of Ellen Doubleday's life behind a facade of sheer wealth. (One problem is the implication that money is not that important in the way of so many films).  Her husband is a sort of bully to whom she must cater, and a very heavy drinker. Basically this relationship never gets anywhere and is deeply frustrating to Daphne because Ellen will not go to bed with her, Ellen insists she is heterosexual. This means they can get only so close for physical life counts.

Ellen Doubleday (Elizabeth McGovern) protesting Daphne's possessiveness and desire for a physical relationship

A counterpoint is at home she has no satisfactory physical life with her husband.  Another problem with the film:  Tommy is presented as  a weakling.

Browning, Daphe's husband (Andrew Haville), just returned from the war

In life Browning was not a total weakling who was dependent in the way he is presented of the film. In the film we never see him at his job (he had one in military diplomacy). We only see him (and Doubleday too) playing with children.  Why some women's films have to emasculate and infantilize men I don't know.  It makes the film skew up the realities of what women must deal with. As I recall Browning had affairs too (with women).

The central character after Daphne emerges slowly too:  McTeer as Gertrude Lawrence. At first she seems to Daphne vulgar, superficial, faux-glamorous.  She is hired to play in Daphne's play and Daphne hates the way she acts.  Gradually she comes to accept, like and finally love Gertrude; they enjoy life together:

and they do have a physical and emotional affair where they break out of their constricting lives and are very happy together.  Lovely scenes of them.  McTeer is brilliant in this complicated role of stubbornly anti-intellectual playgirl overdressed (very gaudy continually, often grossly sexy in awful clothes) whose tragedy at the close of the film is both Daphne and Ellen's loss.

A subplot is Daphne's writing block.  After she comes home from the prosecution, we see her in her hut but not able to write anything. 

This is inconsistent for she seems to be producing plays. But no novel.  Gertrude in conversation is the first one to ackowledge Forster's theory: we see as Daphne watches Gertrude play in the play, Gertrude turn into Ellen and we realize the young man of the play is Daphne,

but what this means emerges explicitly gradually and only in Florida where she talks so openly with Gertrude. There we see her talk of no relationship with her mother and her idealization of her father -- her book on him (superb) is brought up early on in the film. At the close of the film after Ellen rejects Daphne's overtures for a last time (denying she is repressed, saying she is just "not that way'), Daphne's writing block breaks and she writes My Cousin Rachel.  We are to see DuMaurier's Rachel is Ellen and Daphne, the murderous narrator.

It reminded me of Gwyneth Hughes and Anne Pivcevic's Miss Austen Regrets in the way it used letters for a story.  Yes both film do make love the big motivation for writing the way biopics seem bound to do. It does simplify and omit.  Sadly the comparison brings out the maudling and much greater romanticizing tendencies of the Austen biopic. In fact DuMaurier is treated with more respect as an artist wanting to create a work, not someone writing out of love romance (which many have however mistakenly taken Miss Austen Regrets to be).

The worst motif is the presentation of Daphne's relationship with her children. She seems to have no conflicts there to speak of; they are innocent too.  Often I've seen this:  the centrality of children to women's lives as real conflict and problems is erased. Either the woman is all sacrifice or she avoids them -- here we have a woman who seems able to avoid her children when she wants (a nanny and her husband take care of them) and it does no harm.  Their schooling and growing up is just no problem to her either.  We hear of no other books, no other motives for writing -- only like Miss Austen Regrets the DVD just include a short which has nother motive: in this case "DuMaurier's Cornwall." She wrote like Graham out of responsiveness to the seascape country world of Cornwall.

Two women (here Gertrude and Daphne) walking together seen from the back and afar -- a central motif of womens' films

It is worth buying the DVD to have the half-hour program of Daphne DuMaurier's Cornwall:  based on her book, Vanishing Cornwall, this film is filled with characteristic and suggestive shots of all sorts of places in Cornwall,

buildings, seascapes and manages through meditation to take us from the 5th century Arthurian period through the early middle ages, to the 18th century and 20th: tin, mining, wild church stories (tormented solitary people), the towns, some of the history, the geography. It's useful for understanding Poldark's Cornwall  -- and Cornish gothic too.

Both films, Daphne, the fiction, and this DuMaurier's Cornwall use Wagnerian music, soaring Tristan and Isolda arias at moments of high romance or thought.

Why doesn't it totally succeed. The pace goes too slow and some of the music intended to make us surge with tears, is overdone, played too slow and the scene they are placed against (often landscapes or meditative shots of principles) feel contrived.  The use of 1940s music wherever possible doesn't work. The use of newsreels of the time, actual photos of DuMaurier with her children walking together, are interspersed with the modern actors dressed up in 40s outfits and filmed in black and white to look like news is intended to provide the setting's story but they don't go with the super-glamorous colors of the modern sets and costumes, and neither with the big band music in the background. Sequences are shot too sentimentally somehow and contrivances of technologies too apparent

But as I hope others who read this can see, this is an absorbing women's film, a genuine memoirs/slice of life by means of film of Daphne DuMaurier, a film about the sources of creativity.  It's a TV film that never made into the movies, but you can get it on Netflix.  The women are so alive in their clothes:

McTeer as Gertrude

Somerville as Daphn


P. S. See also (another film recently seen), on Wild Target: featuring Bill Nighy, Emily Blunt, Eileen Aitkins, Rupert Grint, screenplay Lucinda Coxon, director Jonathan Glint, a French farce anglicized: as Izzy says, in the last moments you see this is a remark of one of the French entertainments (she and I enjoy a lot0, which accounts for its (to Anglo norms) wackiness which is yet targeted somehow at the modern world; also it's a funny film if you can get yourself to laugh at people murdered at the drop of a hat (the film means you to flinch, gulp and move on).


( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 14th, 2010 05:01 pm (UTC)
i do so love your blog.
Dec. 15th, 2010 03:06 pm (UTC)
New wine in old bottles
One of the small but significant elements of _Daphne_ is a reworking of older archetypes especially when it comes to dress, which film studies have shown are so important, especially in women's films.

Take a look at Janet McTeer in that hat with the cigarette holder. This is the old glamor woman (Bette Davies kind of hat), but instead of seething with repression, somehow either a femme fatale or devilish or trussed up as most of the women types of teh 40s, 50s, it turns out McTeer is not like this at all. She laughs a lot and easily. She enjoys life and is open to other women and men. She's not a hypocrite and anything but manipulative. McTeer makes a speciality almost of taking older archetypes and replaying a new tune in them (as in the Oswald redo of Mary Stuart).

Other costume alternations: Geraldine Somerville's costumes look like the virtuous heroine who never had a thought of sex in her mind and we discover not only does she have this but she is also lesbian when she wants to be.

Dec. 15th, 2010 03:20 pm (UTC)
DuMaurier's Jamaica Inn
Just want to mention briefly that I recently watched Hitchcock's 1939 film, Jamaica Inn, based on DuMaurier's book. It is dark and gloomy--takes place in Cornwall in the early part of the 19thC--before law and order has come to
this wild coastal area.

It is a story of a gang of pirate lowlifes--they assist in shipwrecking a vessel, then killing the crew that survive and making off with the cargo. I never recognized Charles Laughton or Maureen O'Hara until I read the credits at the end.

It was not a difficult film to watch. Almost enjoyable. The film is included in Hitchcock anthologies on dvd and also a DVD series clled "Legends of Horror." The dark landscape and scenery might make some consider it Gothic.


In reply:

Thanks, Linda. I'll put it on my Netflix queue. I did read the book when I was in my teens and remember liking it -- though not as much as Rebecca or My Cousin Rachel.

I recall it takes place in the long 18th century as does _King's General_ (late 17th, during the English civil war, the heroine crippled by the hero in an accident). I read _King's General_ when I was in my 30s and thought it very very good.

I have King's General as a possibility on ECW. I'm ever looking for books to share on ECW (its terrain is not a fan's list type) so if you ever want to try reading DuMaurier we could try on ECW.

Dec. 16th, 2010 08:32 pm (UTC)
UTubes of Gertrude Lawrence and Daphne DuMaurier
Robert Champ:

"I hought you might be interested in this clip of Gertrude Lawrence singing way back 1929. So different from her role as Amanda Wingfield in _The Glass Menagerie_.


Robert Champ This clip is from a TV interview with DuMaurier in which some footage from a home movie is shown.

Dec. 16th, 2010 08:33 pm (UTC)
The Gertrude Lawrence seen in the clip
I've only watched the Gertrude Laurence so far. She projects a more European image from the era, a kind of semi-innocent femme fatale? The high voice is not one we favor nowadays. Janet McTeer's a more wholesome image -- all these are constructed of course, Robert. I'll com...e back later for the DuMaurier -- must to the post office this morning. Do you like DuMaurier? I love some of her books (Rebecca, My Cousin Rachel, King's General, Jamaica Inn), she has short gems (The Birds), but others leave me yawning or irritate me with the Frank Yerby book-of-the-month club stereotype characters (including House on the Strand I've discovered). Margaret Forster's biography is very good. Ellen
Dec. 16th, 2010 08:38 pm (UTC)
DuMaurier's House on the Strand (1)
IT It anticipates post-modern fiction. We have a hero who takes potions and finds himself in the past, and then when he's tapped by another character in the past, voila, he's back in the present. She can compare Cornwall of the 15th century to Cornwall of the mid-20th. Reading it I became aware of how much Light leaves out:

DuMaurier wants to escape to the past for itself

She revels in showing us gratuitous cruelty, whether to expose human nature I don't know. We see two monks beating a boy who is naked from the waist down. It's just thrown off -- rather like in Emily Bronte's _Wuthering Heights_ where Hareton casually drowns kittens and tortures animals in the early parts of the novel.

This desire to be a man: the male narrator is actually common with her; the famous novels have female narrators, but I think that's not that typical.

Her bisexuality. I don't feel she's so much a lesbian as (excuse the expression) butch and heterosexual. She finds intense pleasure in power, vicarious as well as owned

I'm enjoying the Cornwall landscapes of the 13th to 14th century much more -- having been spending much time reading Winston Graham's books. I am also aware of how much cliche there is in her language. It's a lot less particularized than Graham's -- I just have this feel that at least as far as the parts situated in Cornwall in the past are concerned they are not convincing except for the landscape. The language the characters from "the old days" (her words) speak, the way they are dressed and their stances are imitations of Scott and Stevenson -- or at least so I feel as yet.

Alas, it comes to Scott-like tushery at moments. Forster in fact approaches DuMaurier in the judicious way few do: either they overpraise or talk in a way that doesn't mention her defeats: this category women academics on the gothic and, sometimes the same group, women readers who seem enamoured of DuMaurier's own preference for males at the center and ferocious or cruel "strong" women, irrespective of what they do or for what motives. Or others trash her - as I gather some people do Elizabeth Jane Howard. The "popular" male novelist might be said to be worse off as not trashed and often as dismissed by academics, he's simply not brought up, not remembered (as for example Graham).

The transformations from the present day in Cornwall to the fourteenth century are powerful -- really detailed or feelingful enough that the text feels vivid and a real experience the change.

There was no such thing in Rigler's Confession of a JA Addict. As it opened, the narrator was intensely amazed to see the changes in her body (from dumpy, with big breasts, shortish and dark hair -- apparently then all great no-nos with Rigler and her readers) but after this initial strength and some description of Bath or London (brief) as startling and here or there a brief renewal of startle at customs, nothing. One reminded me of the scene in the 87 film where we see people in clothes bathing and Rigler got all disgusted as she usually does for she buys into the idea most people -- all but her heroine and immediate characters --- stunk.

I've put it down for the same reasons I've put other of DuMaurier's books down: many don't hold me; they're somehow not rooted in some reality I demand. I'm interested in time-traveling and tell myself if I could finished _Confessions of JA Addict_ (where the moral point of view was simply stupid) surely I can finish this, but I do see that the two books are closer in type and feel than lovers of DuMaurier would like to admit: both really lack the social imagination one must have in order for a historical novel to deal seriously with politics (as they used to in the 19th century, as in say George Eliot) and not fall simply into popular romance or (in our own time the subspecies called) chicklit.

(cont'd in part two).
Dec. 16th, 2010 08:38 pm (UTC)
DuMaurier's House on the Strand (2)
he problem in DuMaurier is her characters: either it's that I don't believe in them or they irritate me. I'm not sure which for if I'm truthful with myself I know the reality is many novels have unreal characters and use stereotypes which the author gets us to accept by force of his or her personalty or obsessions and stories. Well these in the 14th century -- certainly built up and with a real sense of political-social interaction suggested (however thinly) remind me of characters I once accepted in Frank Yerby novels. The women are presented as sensual eager-to-go-to-bed with others creatures; it's such a driveling male point of view that irks me. The narrator is said to be male but like so many books by women where the narrator is said to be male, I just don't believe it. Instead I've got this neutered presence at the center. "He" talks of his wife and children but I don't feel he has a real wife: there too the complaints about her are so stereotyped.

She does have a novel with a male I have read and is powerful: My Cousin Rachel: there the narrator is fuelled by intense rage, hatred, jealousy seething under the surface we gradually find. She's imitating John Ridley from Lorna Doone and what happens is he murders her. Again the heroine is this femme fatale. Who believes in this crap? My husband Jim makes fun of novels by men where all the women are jumping into bed with the central male: he says he never met such women and would like to find out where they are. Well I never met such women either.

When (to take an example of serial promiscuity), Elizabeth Jane Howard is getting into bed with man after man, each one for about a year and sometimes more and sometimes more than one at a time because the relationshiop with one is not dead and he's helping her in some way, she is no femme fatale. She's lost, pathetic and is not doing it to have the man's wonderful body or penis: but rather is clinging on in unacknowledged humiliation in order to be validated and kid herself this relationship gives her meaning. It does in a way; it keeps her busy and her money and contacts pay for her rent.

IF the EJH behavior is a model for these femme fatales, what preversion of presentation this kind of thing is -- how in effect cruel and useless for women. Perhaps DuMaurier would have despised EJH had she read her book and claimed when she goes to bed with someone it's out of strength. If so, her puppet women are glamorized versions of herself in superficial ways.

There is one paragraph thus far where DuMaurier's narrator says of women in the 14th century after telling offhand of how one of the women no longer need have any children having given her husband 2 daughters and him having 3 sons from another wife

"So much for woman's value in other days. Good reared for purchase, then bought and sold in the marketplace, or ather man. Small wonder that ,their duty done, they looked round for consolation, Either by taking al oer oby by plaing anctive pat in the bargaining of their own daughters and sons."

The passage in itself gives away the impoverished way DuMaurier sees earlier women. They did nothing but these public activities -- networking to sell the daughter -- or going to bed with some man on the sly.

As you can see I'm more irritated by DuMaurier than Rigler. To be truthful Rigler was in a way so dumb and dense it was silly to get irritated - only it gave me pause as explaining to me why people vote so stupidly and feminism can't get anywhere.

DuMaurier persuades me she capable of something better than this because there is a better implied morality in the tone of her book; in this one we again get a version of her alienation (so strong in her depressed heroines) towards social life. I know she wrote better (Rebecca, My Cousin Rachel, King's General) and she could do adventure stories in the Scott like way (only from an abject women's outlook, Frenchman's Creek and Jamaica Inn) and the occasional childing good gothic story ("The birds" is superlative)


Dec. 17th, 2010 01:11 am (UTC)
Daphne DuMaurier home movie
Well thank you, Bob. I've watched it and like her in the film clip. I wish I knew how to send these utubes. The instructions Mike (Powe) sent me were too elliptical. I need a step-by-step instruction with absolutely nothing left to intuition. Geraldine Somerville may have been chosen as close to DuMaurier in haplogroup (phenotype).

I should say if the Gertrude Lawrence clip is meant to somehow justify the femme fatale typology, it does not at all to me. I added a pair of comments on _The House on the Strand_ to my blog on _Daphne_ where I express how I see these types in DuMaurier's fiction.

Very cold, dark tonight, Bob. Glad I'm in and you are too. I remember the homeless and feel for them. Ellen
Dec. 27th, 2010 07:16 pm (UTC)
I especially love the ocean and beach scenes but I also enjoyed the 40's music. Does anyone know the names of the songs, especially the one in chapter 4 when a record was playing and the song went something like "Tonight a see a message in your eyes.."? The melody is very familiar--
Amy Adams
Apr. 18th, 2012 01:45 pm (UTC)
Enjoyed your blog. Great, intelligent movie.
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