Did we like it?
Perhaps overlong to illustrate the unhappiness of Daphne Du Maurier’s futile efforts to find fulfilment after the success of Rebecca, Geraldine Somerville in the title role drove the drama on with a controlled performance of despondency, envy and frustration.
What was good about it?
• Geraldine Somerville as Daphne captured the author’s anguish at her vacuous domesticity, which was spent caring for her three children while her emotionally impotent husband was fighting in World War Two. Her hopes that her love for her husband would be rekindled after was demobbed were dashed as it quickly became apparent that they had grown so far apart that they never slept in the same room again.
• Much of it was set just after Daphne had garnered fame and fortune through Rebecca, but was now struggling to dream up anything to match it. Her creativity wasn’t helped by the distraction of a plagiarism case in America after a thriller writer accused her of lifting elements from their crime novel. However, Daphne was eloquently able to prove otherwise by proclaiming Rebecca as altogether more complex and profound yet in doing so she was forced to expose the fundamental truths buried in Rebecca about the unpleasantries of an unhappy marriage.
• It was on her way to and during her stay in America that she met the two women who were to become her lovers – Ellen Doubleday (Elizabeth McGovern) and Gertrude Lawrence (Janet McTeer) – and it was they who snapped Daphne out her atrophying ennui. Gertrude, marvellously played by McTerr, especially encouraged Daphne to embrace her true sexuality and did so in a blaze of debauched hedonism.
• The effect when Daphne and Gertrude were driving in their car with an unrealistic background initially looked like abysmal production, but the fact that it was to abysmal led us to think that it was a sardonic homage to the similarly awful effects (though admittedly the best possible at the time) of the 1940s.
What was bad about it?
• The relentless austerity of Daphne’s life. Nothing seemed to make her smile – not her children, not her lovers, and certainly not her husband. All of this made Daphne’s life a trek similar to wading waist deep through the gushing waves on the windswept beaches Daphne was so fond of frequenting.
• A problem not just with this programme but with any that attempts the feat of replicating the grainy black and white newsreel from the 30s and 40s is that it always looks far too polished. There is a polish to the modern footage that even special effects that can create a rampaging giant gorilla from the hard drive of a PC cannot dispel. Even the flickering faults seem to contrived, too well-placed to mimic the random graininess of the genuine film.