Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Jeremy Brett stars in Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca (1979)

This post is a part of my Jeremy Brett Celebration! There are several other posts that have been/will be shared, so please feel free to visit the above page.

It's practically a crime that the Jeremy Brett version of Rebecca has never been officially released on DVD. I have an old copy recorded from television, and it serves its purpose, but when I say old copy, I mean old copy. This miniseries cinematography would stand the test of time quite admirably if it were remastered properly. I can only hope and pray that someday it is given the official DVD and/or blu-ray release that it deserves.

Until then, you can find various copies of it on YouTube. And if you're clever, you can locate the not-so-approved DVDs online created by fans of both Jeremy Brett and the miniseries.

Now that I've given the scoop on the state of the miniseries and its availability, on we go.

Joanna David as the second Mrs. de Winter

If you're not familiar with Rebecca, it is the story of a young, naive woman and her marriage to a wealthy aristocrat named Maxim de Winter. He wooed and won her while they both happened to be vacationing in Monte Carlo, he because he can and her because her employer chose Monte for her vacation. They honeymoon in Venice and then they're back in England because Maxim wants to show her his home, Manderley. Little does the second Mrs. de Winter realize that Max and Manderley are still haunted by the death of the first Mrs. de Winter, a haunting enhanced by the presence of the housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, a woman who adored the first Mrs. de Winter since she was a child. Not all is as it seems, including the rumored marital bliss of Max and his first wife, the infamous Rebecca.

Jeremy Brett and Joanna David in Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca (1979)

♥♥♥♥♥ Jeremy Brett. Jeremy Brett. Jeremy Brett.  ♥♥♥♥♥

I could pretty much end the discussion there. But I won't. 

Jeremy Brett is most known for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes. A portrayal that I adore, but he also did SO MUCH MORE throughout his remarkable career. Only a small ripple in the pond of Jeremy Brett's genius is his portrayal of Maxim de Winter in Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca.

Maxim can be an enigma. I have never finished reading the novel, primarily because Maxim is so hard for me to pin down. Rather like Jane Eyre's Mr. Rochester, Maxim seems cruel and cold and frightening. I don't like the book character and I was never 100% fond of Laurence Olivier's performance (even though I am an Olivier fan).

I was on the hunt, if you will, for my personal ideal portrayal of Maxim de Winter.

Jeremy Brett and Joanna David in Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca (1979)

Maxim needs to be a tortured and sensitive soul. It's a fine balancing act between strength and weakness, compassion and cruelty, and if the balance is tipped a tiny bit in the wrong direction, Maxim becomes almost impalatable. There can be no artifice in the performance. Authenticity and transparency are required.

And because Jeremy Brett knows how to add touches of sympathy to his slightly coarser roles, he makes Maxim an absolute delight. There is nothing more agonizing than their return to Manderley where Mrs. Danvers begins to take it upon herself to undermine the newlyweds' happiness with conniving bits of trickery. Joanna David as the second Mrs. de Winter (poor nameless character) is ideal. I've never seen the heroine as attractive, as in she's not a stunner, but she has other qualities which are what draws Maxim to her. Joanna David is PERFECT in this role. She plays the character with fragility but with a hidden strength that blossoms later in the miniseries. When Maxim needs her the most, she rises to the occasion in the vein of a true heroine.

Anna Massey as Mrs. Danvers in Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca (1979)

There's something striking about the overall production, its setting, its cast, the roaring of the sea, and above all, the unseen spirit of Rebecca hovering over Manderley, ruining everything it touches. I say her spirit, but of course, we're never sure of Rebecca's spirit being present. No, it is actually Mrs. Danvers who keeps the spirit of Rebecca alive, frighteningly portrayed by Anna Massey who had been married to Jeremy Brett between 1958-1962 until they divorced. I do wonder what it was like for them to be reunited and whether the divorce was amicable, but of that, I can't say.

Some days I just need a dark and brooding miniseries to watch, but I don't always feel inclined to watch anything by Dickens (as much as I love him) and while suspense/thrillers have their place, gothic literature is special. I've actually rewatched Rebecca twice this year because I love it so much. It serves its purpose of transporting me away to a slightly gruesome spectacle.

Jeremy Brett and Joanna David in Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca (1979)

The 1979 version of Rebecca was approved of by the author and frankly, I can't blame her. Even though I've never read the novel through to completion, I still know where the other incarnations have departed from the source material, but not so with this version. This is what makes it my favorite, despite the lack of a proper copy that has been gorgeously remastered. Jeremy Brett and Joanna David bring the story to glorious life in a perfectly unified performance, making me believe they have a true love story. What more could I ask for?

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