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Customer Review

on 23 August 2007
Having viewed this (1997), the Hitchcock, and the older (1979?) BBC versions, and having read the novel umpteen times, I have to vote for the older BBC as the best version.

As regards this version: Charles Dance is certainly a fine actor,as are all the cast, but I found him just a bit too old (Maxim is only 42), and too fair (the second wife comments a number of times on his dark features). Jeremy Brett, the earlier BBC Maxim, was in my opinion the exact embodiment of the character, and gave him the appropriate broodiness.

Emilia Fox, while looking the part of Maxim's shy second wife, wasn't quite innocent enough (innocence is the main quality that attracts Maxim in view of Rebecca's complete lack of it). There was a glint of "knowingness" in her eye from almost the very beginning. Fox's mother, Joanna David, played the wife in the earlier version, and she was not only physically perfect for the role, but she managed to imbue the character with exactly the right amount of innocence and insecurity without the mannerisms of Joan Fontaine (who is too pretty).

I can't think why recent writers of literary film adaptions feel they must include at least one scene in which the hero and heroine are "rolling in the hay" (witness the most recent adaption of "Jane Eyre" with Toby Stephens) unless it's to attract fans of bodice-ripper fiction; I find it a bit off-putting if it isn't actually in the novel, and also a bit insulting to my intelligence and rather active imagination.

I thought Faye Dunaway seriously miscast as Mrs. Hopper, and her hamminess stood out in a most glaring fashion among the other performances in the production.

I am a great admirer of Diana Rigg, but in this role I prefer both Judith Anderson (Hitchcock) and Anna Massey (1979), neither of whom are as beautiful (no insult intended!) as Rigg, and I never thought of Mrs. Danvers as aesthetically pleasing in any way.

My biggest gripe with this version is seeing glimpses of Rebecca herself (a mouth here, back of the head there). SAD mistake. Du Maurier took great pains to keep Rebecca shrouded in mystery for as long as possible; even the few physical facts she gives us ("tall and slim, with that cloud of dark hair and the face of a Botticelli angel") comes through other characters as secondhand information. The second wife's fragile if not non-existent ego, and the constant undermining of her confidence, depends largely on the INDISTINCT picture she has of her glamorous predecessor, which sends her imagination into a frenzy. All this serves to illustrate that evil is much more potent when unseen.

Of course, due to time constraints, the Hitchcock leaves much of the novel out and condenses other parts; this version, on the other hand, adds scenes between Maxim and his wife that are nowhere to be found in the novel, and really don't add much to the story. In fact, I found them detrimental to the over-all pace. I especially object to the fabricated conversation between the two after the fancy dress ball. It would have preserved the dramatic tension much better had they stuck with du Maurier's idea that the wife doesn't get a chance to speak to Maxim until the all-important confession scene. ***SPOILER ALERT*** And why on earth does he strangle Rebecca, when he shoots her in the novel?

In conclusion, my opinion is that of the three versions, the 1979 BBC is the best, and gives us almost the entire novel on film. And the extensive use of Debussy in the musical score is brilliant. Too bad it isn't available on DVD.
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