Monday, 14 May 2007

Daphne du Maurier

Yesterday, Sunday 13th May, was the centenary of Daphne du Maurier's birth and, apart from various literary celebrations, there was also the screening on television of a film called – not surprisingly – Daphne.

It seems that the cult of celebrity is so central to our lives now that the media is always striving to give us what they think we want Рan expose of celebrity life and the more salacious the better. But, having been over-exposed to modern celebrities who all seem to be either too thin, too insecure or too spoiled we are surely jaded: journalists, broadcasters and film makers must therefore be delighted when they alight on fresh meat - a famous author with a risqu̩ life-style even if said author is dead.

Based on Margaret Forster's 1993 biography, the film covers Daphne du Maurier's personal love life – her unrequited love for her publisher's wife, her less than successful relationship with her husband and her consummated love for her father's ex-mistress, Gertrude Lawrence.

The trouble with such a docudrama cum biography as this, is that it's sometimes difficult for the viewer to keep in mind that it's not necessarily a truthful account of events but a version of the truth. The film starts after Daphne's husband returns from the Second World War: they are living in their large Cornish house, Menabilly, with their three children. She is still feted for her most famous novel, Rebecca (1936), but has to go to America to answer an accusation of plagiarism. And there she falls in love with her publisher's wife.

Unfortunately, the film didn't add to our understanding of the novelist's motives or talent which is a pity, nor did it really get over her passionate love of Cornwall. It will probably cause even more parallels to be drawn between Daphne's sexually conflicting emotions and her work. Will we hear that it was obviously her pent up emotions that drove her work? Or will we be allowed to hold on to the thought that she had raw creative talent.

The truth is that it was probably a bit of both. Sure, writers use experience to inspire stories or inform characters - it's generally accepted that Daphne du Maurier was the second Mrs de Winter in Rebecca, Menabilly was Manderley, and the character Maxim was an amalgam of the men in her life - but I like to think that Daphne had an ability that didn't rely on malfunctioning personal relationships in order for her to write convincing novels.

If you went with the flow of the film Daphne it was satisfyingly moody in a period way - stunning Cornish landscape, large country pile, moving music and big frocks – although the character, Daphne, was less attractive. She came over as a pretty buttoned up, enigmatic character to me; a person incapable of a spontaneous natural show of affection or fun, or indeed interest in anything in particular.

Except writing, of course, that - when one thinks of her work - would be more than enough for most of us. Starved of anything half decent to watch on TV I enjoyed the film as a period piece but I'm not sure that it does service to Daphne du Maurier's work – it almost belittled her and consequently her talent. But if many who watched it now read – or re-read a few as I intend - some of her novels, the film will have had an impact that I've not given it credit for.


Book Notes: Daphne du Maurier's husband sought her ought on the strength of her first novel, The Loving Spirit, 1931. She went on to write many more of which Rebecca (1936) was her most famous. It was made into a film (3 times) as was My Cousin Rachel, Jamaica Inn and Frenchman's Creek. She also wrote works of non-fiction and several short stories one of which was made into the Hitchcock film, Birds, and two plays.

No comments: