FORGOTTEN GEM: Daphne DuMaurier “My Cousin Rachel”

On my twelfth birthday I was gifted two books from my cousin Rebecca. Wrapped up in wrapping paper were Daphne Du Maurier’s “Rebecca” and My “Cousin Rachel”. Thirteen years later I read “My Cousin Rachel” (and about time too). I love Du Maurier’s work. After reading “Rebecca” when I was fifteen I went on a Du Maurier buying spree. In between reading an additional five books over the years, “My Cousin Rachel” continued to be bypassed until recently when scanning my bookshelves I realised I needed another Du Maurier fix.

“My Cousin Rachel” does not disappoint. It is as formulaic as a Daphne Du Maurier book can be, while still being its own distinctive narrative. She is famous for her ability to create romantic novels with sinister overtones. While relationships become stronger and characters become more dependent on each other, some other force or person is enmeshing itself into the relationship to disrupt it in some way. The strange and the unexpected appear in the common place. In this way “My Cousin Rachel” develops.

“Every thought and every word uttered by them
is entirely believable.”

Phillip’s cousin Ambrose, who raised him, marries, while convalescing in Italy, a woman called Rachel. Ambrose unexpectedly dies and Rachel travels to England to meet the cousin. Thrown into this very sedate story line are a couple of letters written by Ambrose before his death that cast aspersions on the character of Rachel, claiming that her arrival is driven by a desire for an inheritance from her dead husband, who not having changed his will, left her nothing.

“My Cousin Rachel” as in most of Du Maurier’s books is a study of character. She creates the world and the mind of our narrator so perfectly that every thought and every word uttered by them is entirely believable in the make up of the character.

But the location, the setting of her story is an additional character that cannot be forgotten. The location, the estate on which Phillip has grown up, is as much a part of the story as the characters are. The land provides the wealth and the living thereby shaping the characters. This is the beauty of Du Maurier’s literature. She understands the power of an environment in determining the character and the actions of an individual.

Phillip has never had prolonged contact with women. He has known no mother and therefore the arrival of Rachel at his home is the first time he has lived with a women under his roof. This premise allows Daphne Du Maurier to explore how a woman’s emotions influence a man’s, especially when the man has no previous experience of these manipulations. I was engrossed in the mind-set that she created in Phillip; in each analysis of the words or actions that Rachel performed and how these actions where analysis by a man unused to a women, sometimes accurately and sometimes not. As a woman it made me analyse things I say and actions that I perform and reflect on how these would be interpreted.

“She understands the power of an environment in determining the character and the actions of an individual.”

A fascinating study of human character, although in an outdated age the emotional trajectory that Phillip follows is reminiscent of the emotional upheavals and trials that men and woman have to negotiate together even today. Like a lot of her books not a lot happens during the middle, life slides along with the pages, but they aren’t uninteresting. Her use of language is such that she creates her written images in your imagination.

Published in 1951, made into a film in 1952, earning Richard Burton (as Phillip) a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination, which is ludicrous as Phillip is the protagonist, but I’m not analysing the politics of the Oscar’s here, this book has been almost subsequently forgotten. It was remade for television in the 80s but it has not had the pervading remembrance that “Rebecca” has had on our collective consciousness. Whether this is because “Rebecca” was immortalised by Hitchcock or because it was genuinely a better novel I hesitate to guess. Of the books I have so far read, neither of these two take the crown which would be tossed between “The Scapegoat” and “The Parasites” but that does not mean one should not read this book.

It is engaging. It is sinister. It asks questions that it does not always answer. But above all it makes you think about the simple manipulations of the human being, in contrast to the complex creatures that we are.

Words: Rachel Jacobs

FORGOTTEN GEM: Once

A prophetic title, “Once” is here to remind us that once in a while, you get a film out of nowhere that surprises you and reminds you the magic of the movies.

“Once” tells a story of a street performer, a busker, that communicates to the passing crowd his feelings and despair about the love he once lost. A Czech girl, an immigrant who is selling roses in the street hears him, and expresses her admiration for his voice and his songs. And one of the greatest stories starts to play out in front of the audiences eyes. Their growing bond spoken through song.

Two people, ignored usually by the crowds that pass them by, show tremendous talent not only in singing and playing their instruments but in learning the lessons of love through their songs and lyrics. We never learn either of their names. There is no need to. They are just two people, could just as easily be you and me. We never see them in a soppy love story. Those are for Hollywood, real life is never like that. That just is not how the world works. Instead we see them singing some amazing lyrics to one another and that is enough.

“Once” is one of the movies that forces you into contemplation after you’ve seen it. Upon watching, the audience will enjoy a very independent little movie, complete with not so steady camera work. As with many films of its ilk, the shaky screen can be uncomfortable, but persist, the magic of “Once” comes afterwards. Post-film, when you put all the scenes that you experienced together, you form a beautiful story, told in the most interesting way.

Using unknown actors (and I use the term actors lightly – the two leads are in fact musicians in real life, rather than actors) works very well given the anonymity of the roles they undertake. “Once” could not have worked if lead by the A-list stars. Unassumingly normal, the pair are refreshingly everyday, increasing the relateability factor.

Both Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová are subtle, real, and genuine in their understated performances. They easily convince as two friends strengthening their relationship.

The dialogue is simple yet effective, but the majestic is left for the songs which easily dominate the scenes in which they are present. “Once” boasts without doubt one of the most delicately beautiful and emotionally uplifting soundtracks of recent times.

Written and directed by former The Frames lead singer/bassist John Carney, it is clear that Carney has a passion for observation. “Once” steers clear of the intrusive. In a Big Brother obsessed society, Carney has captured the feeling of following a stranger you meet down the street without ever really imposing on their world. His approach feels like a documentary. He is here to remind us that we are watching these people, to listen to them and enjoy their relationship.

The observational documentary effect is only enhanced by the camera work. For the majority of the fi lm, the hand-held effect is simple yet used to good effect. However, Carney is too clever to leave the viewer in a state between reality and fiction. The last scene is perfectly executed. Using a crane, the camera ‘flies away from the scene providing an ending so complete, yet so full of craving to fi nd out what became of our fictional pair.

“Once” (Icon Home Entertainment) is available on DVD.

FILM REVIEW: The Blind Side

Director: John Lee Hancock

There is a price to be paid to won the Best Actress award at the Oscar’s. Firstly, an actress needs to change her appearance. Secondly, it appears that a complicated love live is also required. Sandra Bullock appears to have ticked both boxes. For her role in The Blind Side, Bullock may have not gone all Charlize Theron on us and gone from screen siren to overweight mass murderer, but she did dye her hair blonde. On top of this, her seemingly steady marriage Jesse James floundered within weeks of Bullock accepting her statuette.

However, this is not a review of Bullock’s hair colour nor her private life, but rather the rather brilliant, if very television movie-esque “The Blind Side” for which Bullock deserves much applause.

I can honestly say that there has not been a film since “Speed” in which Bullock had appeared that has held my attention past the opening credits. Even “Miss Congeniality did not float my boat. Yet “The Blind Side” sees a return to form for the once promising young actress. The real life story upon which “The Blind Side” is based garnered a lot of attention, so Bullock should be given due credit is seizing a golden opportunity to return to Hollywood A List.

The premise is simple. From the outside looking in, it seems that Leigh Ann Tuohy (Sandra Bullock) has the life that most people seek. Her husband Sean (Tim McGraw) is incredibly supportive and the pair dote on their two lovely children S.J. (Jae Head) and Collins (Lily Collins) But all that is set to change when Leigh Ann sees a larger than life teenager on her drive home.

Big Mike (Quinton Aaron) will prove the turning point in Leigh’s life. Practically homeless, Big Mike is withdrawn when Leigh approaches him. In a brave move, Leigh decides that she will take the challenging youngster into her own home, with full support of her family. It is is only once he has moved in that Leigh decided to dig a little deeper. She discovers his full name, Michael Oher, and sets out to find out more about her mysterious friend in the hope of helping him out.

Performance wise Bullock does not fail to impress. Her steely, emotional performance proves a career defining moment. Whilst “Pulp Ficton” revived Travolta’s dwindling career, or “The Wrester” Mickey Rourke’s, “The Blind Side” could prove the salvation that Bullock so desperately craved.

The film as a whole is nowhere near as powerful as Bullock’s turn, though it does boast some other strong performances. Jae Head is a real talent to watch, with his performance proving scene stealingly stunning. Equally Quinton Aaron gives a solid, rounded if occasionally emotionally devoid performance.

“The Blind Side” without Bullock may have faded, but Bullock lifts it effortlessly into talking material.

Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Jeremy Williams

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