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Tag Archive: Daphne du Maurier


Review by C.J. Bunce

An exciting new Gothic suspense thriller has arrived in the new Netflix series Requiem.  Like any great mystery–and it seems even more so in this sub-genre–you never can tell what kind of story you’re in until the very end.  Clues are everywhere if you only look at what is right in front of you.  Call it a psychological thriller, call it a ghost story, call it a police procedural, call it another X-Files entry, call it outright horror, Requiem is a British production that, unlike so many past British series, it’s arrived for American audiences as quickly as it premiered in England.  And one of the great things about Netflix is it’s now bridging that gap of time that has so often taken British television series years to arrive in the States.  We don’t know their trick but we love it.  Requiem is as creepy, as atmospheric, and as chilling as anything you’re going to see this year.

Fans of the original The Watcher in the Woods will appreciate Requiem for many reasons, including getting that obligatory British estate nestled in the far-off woods so very right.  Viewers familiar with the Gothic genre will find themselves transfixed, scrabbling to follow clues and guess before the final episode the true nature of the darkness in the story.  The beauty of the script, acting, and setting is that you probably won’t be able to figure it all out.  It’s that good.  Expect a few “I didn’t see that coming” utterances and a satisfying ending.  Is this just another procedural crime drama about a missing child?  Something like The Missing, Thirteen, Broadchurch, Hinterlands, Shetland, or this year’s Netflix release, Collateral Or something with a more supernatural twist like British series Marchlands, Lightfields, The Secret of Crickley Hall, or a litany of creepy ghosts, haunts, and other fears from the big screen across the decades, like Otto Preminger’s Bunny Lake is Missing, Gaslight, The Lady Vanishes, or The Woman in Black, like the film adaptations of the Daphne du Maurier novels My Cousin Rachel, The Birds, and Rebecca, or adaptations of Gothic classics Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, Turn of the Screw, or Great Expectations?  Maybe this is a modern horror tale wrapped in Gothic dress, like The Boy, The Ring, The Sixth Sense, The Shining, The Others, The Fog (and other John Carpenter classics), Skeleton Key, the Oscar winner Get Out, this year’s film Winchester, or Guillermo del Toro’s modern creation inspired by the classic Gothic thriller, Crimson Peak Or maybe it only has the atmosphere of the above productions.  

Virtuoso cellist Matilda Grey (Star Trek Beyond, Black Mirror, and Never Let Me Go’s Lydia Wilson) is readying a London premiere with her musical partner Hal (Game of Thrones’ Joel Fry).  But her world falls apart when her mother Janice (Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams and Spaced’s Joanna Scanlan) commits suicide.  At her mother’s home she finds a hidden box of secrets that reveals her own past may not be what it seems, and she and Hal find themselves trying to come to terms with Matilda’s loss in the seemingly unpronounceable Welsh town of Penllynith.  Something wicked this way comes, or does it?  Is everyone just caught up in an old missing persons case from years ago and the quirky lore of an old village?

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Crime stories are full of dark places and dark characters, characters like Waldo Lydecker in Vera Caspary’s Laura, Rebecca DeWinter in Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, Jim Williams in John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Barbara Sabich in Scott Turow’s Presumed Innocent, Catherine Trammell in Joe Eszterhas’s Basic Instinct, Noah Cross in Robert Towne’s Chinatown.  But what if you were to populate an entire story with only the most vile of these characters, everyone despicable, reprehensible, soulless.  Then you would have Richard Vine’s crime novel Soho Sins.

The New York City in Vine’s novel can’t really exist, and if it does it explains a lot about its perceived debauchery-filled subculture of million dollar art deals and even bigger real estate deals.  Most noir novels take you into places that dip into the dark, but along the way you meet a few “cool” characters, characters that have a trait or two you’d want to emulate, even if they are bad at their very core in a nice, pulp novel way.  That’s not the case in the Soho of Vine’s New York of two decades past (for those not familiar with New York, Soho is the lower Manhattan neighborhood known for its artist lofts and art galleries).  Nobody is personable, likeable, enviable, charming, or authentic.  And this ugliness means that as you forge ahead in a densely crafted 384 pages, the way Vine tells his story and the way he incorporates the shock and awe of the depravity, self-hatred, and apathy, is necessary to keep you engaged.  To Vine’s credit, it all works, complete with a couple of eleventh hour whoppers at the end of the tale.  Not bad at all for a first time novelist.

Vine takes you on a journey through New York City that illustrates in fine detail everything that is bad about the city, primarily in its wealthiest, seediest corners.  Vine brings his years of experience in the contemporary art world to provide a peep show peek into a world where artists and dealers live for no purpose other than to impress and outdo each other.  Our tour guide is a member of this vapid class, art dealer and real estate owner Jackson Wyeth, whose lack of true compassion and concern for anyone including himself at first make it difficult to tag along.  Vine partners him with an old friend, an ex-cop private eye named Hogan, who is a welcome relief from all the banality of the modern art trade and its actors, but ultimately, he and Wyeth are just two sides of a tarnished coin.  Hogan is after the murderer who shot Wyeth’s best friend Philip Oliver’s wife Angela, and Hogan uses Wyeth to introduce him to the art scene, a close-knit club, to prove whether or not Philip committed the murder.  And, by the way, Philip has already confessed to the crime.

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Last seen in the theater 62 years ago, author Daphne du Maurier’s novel My Cousin Rachel is returning to theaters next week in a new adaptation.  Although the title may sound like a somber, pastoral story you might see from the likes of Jane Austen, get ready for a psychological thriller that could only come from the pen of the author of Rebecca and The Birds.  Film adaptations of both of those films would become thriller classics for director Alfred Hitchcock, with Rebecca as the 1941 Best Picture Academy Award winner.  The original 1952 adaptation of My Cousin Rachel starred multiple Oscar winner Olivia de Havilland, who was nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance as Rachel, a beautiful Englishwoman believed to have murdered a man under her care.  de Havilland’s sister, Oscar winner Joan Fontaine, had been nominated for an Oscar for Rebecca.

This time around Roger Michell (Hyde Park on Hudson, Notting Hill) wrote a new adaptation of du Maurier’s novel and directs the film.  He cleverly cast an Oscar-winning Rachel for the role of Rachel–Rachel Weisz (The Constant Gardener, The Mummy)–whose performance looks quite convincing in the first trailer released for the film.  Sam Claflin (Pirates of the Caribbean: Stranger Tides, The Huntsman: Winter’s War) plays Rachel’s cousin, the role originally played by Richard Burton.

The overall look and feel from the film’s trailer is similar to other Gothic novels made into movies: dark, creepy, and mysterious, particularly in the romance between the two lead actors, like that found in Rebecca, Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, and more recently, Crimson Peak.  Check out this trailer for My Cousin Rachel:

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A missed opportunity across the country is the failure to establish a regular, ongoing market for old movies being shown on modern theater screens.  Only recently (OK, the late 1990s so not that recently) mass audiences were able to go back and see the original Star Wars trilogy in the theater and in the past year we were able to see more recent, but still years old, films in the theater well after their initial release, including The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Avengers films, and the Batman franchise.  But for decades now “art house” theaters from time to time get old releases and screen these old films for a few weeks at a time.  Usually the quality is poor, yet it gives new audiences as well as the older crowd that saw the films in their initial release an opportunity to discover or enjoy the films again.

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By Elizabeth C. Bunce

When I set about to pull together my Fantasy Casting Dream Team, I knew right away what it would look like: The characters I selected had to be drawn from various storytelling forms (film, TV, literature, etc). They had to stand the test of time–be true, perennial favorites (vs more recent character crushes).  And they had to be female.

That part was easy.  Actually picking the roster, however, took some deep thought.  It was far easier to say who wouldn’t make the list–no matter how much I may love, say, Charlie Crews (Life), Eliot Spencer (Leverage), or John Casey (Chuck), they were all missing one important trait (that second X chromosome).  Coming up with great female characters wasn’t a problem, either–it was narrowing down my choices (and worse, committing to them, as if I’m going to be quizzed on this later in life, possibly by St. Peter.  Ok, I guess that technically doesn’t happen in life… never mind.).  So.  How to choose among beloved characters from favorite childhood books (Anne Shirley or Mary Lennox? Sophie or Princess Aerin?  Sweet Hattie or dastardly Cruella de Vil?)?  Or narrow down iconic TV characters (I could name Buffy or Faith… but my actual favorite was Anya)?  Or plumb the depths of classical literature and the oral tradition to select among greats like Penelope or Guenevere?

Ultimately, though, with enough shaking, five I’m proud to commit to rose to the top.  There was a tiny glitch with my #1 spot; astute readers may notice that it missed my #1 requirement by rather a long margin.  But he really is so marvelous he makes up for it, and he was, after all, created by a woman (if you don’t know many Emmuskas yourself, the “Baroness” part probably gave that away).

So, like choosing sides for a playground game of kickball, from first pick to last, we have:

Sir Percy Blakeney, aka the Scarlet Pimpernel
The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Emmuska Orczy

We seek him here, we seek him there/Those Frenchies seek him everywhere….

When asked to come up with my five favorite characters, the only one to come instantly to mind was Percy Blakeney/The Scarlet Pimpernel.  Genre fans already recognize the drama inherent in dual identities, and in the early days of the 20th century, Orczy gave us one of the best.  He is, without a doubt, my personal favorite superhero, and my favorite incarnation is the one pictured above, as played by Richard Grant in the 1990s A&E miniseries.  By day, he’s Sir Percy Blakeney, foppish and outrageous and shockingly clueless–a charming idiot obsessed with tying the perfect cravat.  By night, he risks everything to perform incredible acts of heroism as the Scarlet Pimpernel–rescuing beleaguered French aristocrats from the Reign of Terror.  Had she stopped there, Orczy’s hero would probably still have endured.  But she added depth to Sir Percy’s character in his troubled relationship with his wife, French-born Marguerite, who bears the guilt of having once unwittingly betrayed a privileged family to the revolutionaries.  Orczy showed us this story through Marguerite’s eyes, but Grant (and others before him, including the great Leslie Howard) gives us Percy’s side, and the pain of his love for her, tainted by her treachery, informs every one of their nuanced interactions.  He is a complex and layered character, deeply wounded yet no less driven, and able to sustain the most brilliant of aliases.  It takes a genius to play an idiot so convincingly, and so Sir Percy Blakeney, aka the Scarlet Pimpernel, swashbuckles his way to #1 among my all-time favorite characters.

Dona St. Columb
Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne Du Maurier

The great Daphne du Maurier left us a legacy of unforgettable characters: the sinister seductress Rebecca and her creepy handmaid Mrs. Danvers; the ruthless smugglers of Jamaica Inn; The Birds that stormed the Cornish coast and went on to terrorize Hitchcock’s Bodega Bay.  But among that august company, my personal favorite is Dona St. Columb, the heroine of du Maurier’s brilliant Restoration-era pirate romp, Frenchman’s Creek.  Dona is a bored aristocrat whose first act in the novel is to steal her husband’s best friend’s clothes and rob a stagecoach.  Purely for the novelty of it.  Bored to death by herself, her husband, and her shallow life at court in London, Dona takes her young children and flees to Navron, her family’s seaside estate in Cornwall.  There she discovers that the home is being used as the base for French pirates.  Lured by adventure and romance, Dona falls in with the pirates and in love with their captain, whom she always refers to as the Frenchman.  This is the setup for dozens, nay hundreds, of insipid romance novels since–but du Maurier’s great skill and talent elevate both the novel and its delightful heroine well above the average.  Dona is smart, funny, sly, impatient, gloriously larger than life, and soberly self-reflective.  Her journey of languid awakening and swashbuckling adventure is tempered by a self-awareness and maturity that copycat romances lack, and the bittersweet conclusion to her affair with the Frenchman adds a sophistication and respect to our enjoyment and understanding of her character.  But it’s through her bright, delightful voice and her witty observations of life around her that we get caught up in her tale.  I adored Dona from the first, and felt bereft when her story was complete.  And that is exactly the sort of character we all want to create.  (It is a good thing that Dona and Percy never met, for the world might well have imploded.)

The Terminatrix (Sarah Connor, Terminator 2)

Long before Kristanna Loken appropriated (appropriately) the name, fans of Linda Hamilton’s kickass performance in T2 had dubbed her The Terminatrix.  Sure, she’s not an evil cyborg killing machine, but she doesn’t let that stop her.  Evincing one of the most dramatic (if unseen) character arcs in film history, Sarah Connor goes from scared suburbanite to one-woman army, giving us a whole new breed of action hero: a female one.  We had Ripley before and Xena, et al, since, but the mold was forever reshaped around Hamilton’s chiseled biceps and steely glare.  When an aging Ahnold is not sufficient to stop a next-generation Terminator, who can we turn to but… a really pissed-off mom?  Sounds about right.

Scheherazade
The Thousand and One Nights

Her tales have been captivating us for nearly a thousand years, and it was her amazing imagination that gave us Aladdin, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, and Sinbad.  But it is Shahrazad’s own story of selfless and unusually daring heroism that makes her one of the best characters of world literature.  When ruthless sultan Shahriyar is betrayed by his wife (and his brother, it ought to be noted), he exacts a terrible, mad revenge: each night he marries a virgin, then slays her in the morning, so he can never again be wounded the same way.  For over three years this horror continues, unstopped by all the men of the kingdom–until the vizier’s young daughter steps forward and volunteers.  Shahrazad alone has the courage and conviction to end this mindless slaying of women–and a plan that is both audacious and baffling.  She’ll do it with bedtime stories.  Shahrazad is a natural storyteller who understands better than anyone the power of the cliffhanger–and the redemptive power of story.  Each night she spins her husband a new tale–but refuses to reveal the ending until tomorrow.  Thus is she spared her predecessors’ fate.  But more than that, Shahrazad’s tales are full of moral lessons and the wisdom and virtue of women, and gradually her stories cure Shahriyar of his madness.  For her courage to stand up where no one–no man–would, and declare the slaying of women unacceptable; for her brazen plan to stop a mass murderer in his tracks with nothing but half a fairy tale; and for her enduring legacy of literary skill and feminism, Shahrazad easily earns a spot on my roster.

Veronica Mars
Veronica Mars

I can say with total honesty that Veronica Mars (Kristen Bell) was the heroine I’d been waiting for all my life.  She came about 15 years late for me, but the smart, sassy teen (girl) PI was exactly the kind of character I craved as a kid.  She appeared on the scene in 2004, in the genre gap left behind by Buffy, but Kristen Bell did far more than just fill big sister’s shoes.  Veronica Mars not only gave us a YA heroine for the digital age, but created an entirely new genre: teen noir.  Daughter of the town’s disgraced former sheriff-turned-private investigator, the once-popular party girl now earns extra income by spying on her fellow students at Neptune High, in a community sharply divided along class lines.  Recovering stolen homework and restoring tarnished reputations is only her day job, however, for Veronica’s hardboiled exterior conceals a wounded past, and her driving passion is solving the murder of her best friend Lily.  It’s a brilliant genre mashup that gave rise to one of the very best YA heroines ever put on-screen.  Complex, smart, independent, and vulnerable–with a kickass cool job–characters don’t come much better than Veronica Mars.

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