Movies/Television

The Allure of ‘My Cousin Rachel’.

Some years ago, I listened to the audiobook of ‘My Cousin Rachel’, and like her previous work, I was drawn into Daphne du Maurier’s world. As Olivia de Havilland celebrated her 104th birthday this month, I felt it appropriate to watch one of her films.

One of the things that drew me in straight away was seeing Richard Burton as Philip Ashley, which was his first Hollywood role. I’ve always liked Richard Burton and absolutely love his voice and he does well in this role. He plays a convincing angry, tormented, even obsessed character which shifts from revenge to love and back again. Olivia de Havilland portrays a friendly, charming widow, where on occasion, the audience sees another side to her, leaving one to question if she is all she appears to be.

Suspicious of his cousin, Philip enters Rachel’s bedroom, searching her drawers for evidence. Here he discovers seeds. Sadly, though, I think more could have been made leading up to this discovery. Perhaps the hints were too subtle, like when Rachel makes tea. Other than the mention of a tree in Italy in passing towards the end of the film, there is no indication of Rachel’s interest in botany or of laburnum and its poison.

I was impressed with both the film’s costumes and set design. The sets include a couple of scenes in Italy, but mainly those of Ashley House in Cornwall. The architecture within Ashley House, with its timber and stonework, give it a very Gothic atmosphere.

Overall, though, my takeaway from the entire film was Richard Burton’s performance. Perhaps it may also have to do with the fact that he is the main character and the story is told from his point of view. We see his anger and mistrust turn into an obsession so that at times he verges on madness.

This 1952 film version is a good adaptation of the novel, filled with atmosphere and suspense. I just think more could have been made of the possibility of poison to further heighten the suspicion towards Rachel for the viewer, as it had done for Philip Ashley.

What I’ve been watching this past month: –

Unsolved Mysteries (Netflix)

Netflix has resurrected this series I used to watch in the 1980s, once hosted by Robert Stack. This season of six episodes involves disappearances, shocking murders, and UFO encounters. I love a good mystery and I binge-watched this show. I’m really looking forward to a second season. It’s made me want to revisit the original series, currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

Dark Angel (Amazon Prime Video)
This is a drama miniseries, based on the life of Mary Ann Cotton. Played by Joanna Froggatt (of Downton Abby fame), she portrays Britain’s first female serial killer. I enjoyed this show, and Froggatt does well in the role. Maybe it’s because I have seen her in other more ‘nicer’ roles, seeing her in this one made me feel uneasy.

Doc Martin, Season 8 (Netflix)

For something a bit lighter this month, I returned to Portwenn. I really like the Doc (his lack of social skills included), and this fictional Cornish town with its quirky characters. I especially enjoyed the final episode, with a special appearance by Sigourney Weaver, and her interchanges with Mrs. Tishell. 🙂

Do you enjoy watching old movies? What have you been watching this month? Have world events inspired you to watch something lighter or has it made little difference to your viewing habits?

Movies/Television

Revisiting the film ‘Rebecca’.

A few months ago, I listened to the audiobook of Rebecca, which was the perfect excuse to watch the 1940 film version all over again. This film introduced me to the book when I was a kid and has been one of my favourites ever since.

The film stays reasonably close to the book, where the young, nameless protagonist marries Maxim de Winter, owner of Manderley. Here she is witness to constant reminders of Rebecca, his former wife so that she believes Maxim is still in love with her. The constant reminder of his first wife is strengthened by the housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers. Played by Judith Anderson, she does a brilliant job of portraying a cold, vindictive, and jealous character. Mrs. Danvers is loyal to Rebecca, almost to the point of obsession.

This obsession is revealed in its full glory during the scene where Mrs. Danvers shows the new Mrs de Winter around Rebecca’s bedroom for the first time. The room has not changed since the day Rebecca died and is immaculate. The curtains, the furniture, even down to the embroidery, it truly is a beautiful room. Like many of the other sets, a lot of work went into making this one. So much so, I wouldn’t have minded a room like that myself. 😉

Joan Fontaine does a great job as the shy, tormented Mrs de Winter and Laurence Oliver also portrays a convincing Maxim de Winter. Perhaps it was due to his portrayal that I have always seen Maxim and the new Mrs de Winter in a father/daughter relationship, rather than any great romance.

The suspense in this film has a slow, gradual build, heightening the tension and the mystery surrounding Rebecca. You do not see any images of her, but one does not have to because the characters help to build a picture in the viewers’ minds, adding to the suspense. This is what Alfred Hitchcock excelled at.

The special effects are of-course dated, but it still helps with the overall mood of the film, especially when it comes to Manderley itself. Despite this, I think the film is a masterpiece of the Gothic genre and one of Hitchcock’s greatest works.

What I’ve been watching this past month:-

Supernatural, Season One (Amazon Prime Video)

This series follows brothers Sam and Dean Winchester as they search for their missing father, who is on the trail of the daemon that killed their mother over twenty years ago. I had watched this season of Supernatural some years ago, but then somehow forgot all about it. I enjoy the stories, which include urban legends, as well as the banter between the brothers, and the efforts they go to when it comes to involving themselves in investigations. I now have a lot of catching up to do with the Winchester brothers!

Deadwater Fell (Foxtel)
After a house fire kills a mother and her three children, the only remaining survivor is her husband. Investigators discover all five were drugged, and that this ideal family was far from happy. There are a few twists in this show so that the viewer questions who is responsible. With David Tennent in the lead role, he plays a character I was not at all expecting.

Downton Abbey, Season One (Amazon Prime Video)

The first series of this popular drama follows the lives of the Crawley family and their staff after the sinking of the Titanic, leading up to the events of WWI. I have watched the first five seasons of this show before, but have never seen the sixth, and final season. I am watching them all again for this very purpose, as well as taking note of the first couple of seasons for research. My favourite characters were always Sybil Crawley and the Dowager Countess, played by Maggie Smith.

What have you been watching this month? Have you been re-visiting some old favourites? Do you have a favourite character from Downton Abbey or Supernatural?

Horror, Movies/Television

The Slow Horror of The Orphanage.

When I was younger I used to watch a lot of horror movies, but I soon tired of the slasher films and stopped watching altogether. Recently, though, I’ve gone back to watching some more horror movies and one of those included The Orphanage.

The plot involves a couple and their adopted son, who move into the mother’s childhood home, which was once an orphanage. The mother, Laura, plans to turn it into a home for disabled children, but at a party for the opening of the home, their son goes missing.

I was pleasantly surprised with this movie and I’m glad it is an old-fashioned ghost story in that the horror is revealed by the building up of suspense. As I grew up on Hitchcock, this type of horror appeals to me more. To be perfectly honest, one thing that I did find disturbing was the young boy, Tomas. The way he followed the mother around was rather creepy; however, his story is drip-fed to the audience that one eventually feels sympathy for him.

The film is in Spanish and I didn’t have an issue with having to read sub-titles, as I’ve watched quite a few foreign films and television shows over the years. I enjoyed the cinematography, which helped create the atmosphere of isolation, darkness and abandonment. The only problem I had with the movie was self-inflicted in that I didn’t see the ending earlier that I may have done otherwise. I was clearly taken along with the ride and when the resolution was revealed it all made perfect sense. The ending was satisfying and rather poignant.

Even if you are not a fan of the horror genre, this film is still worth watching. It portrays a message of love between a mother and her child and for those less fortunate than ourselves.

Have you watched The Orphanage? Do you prefer the slow build of suspense or slasher flicks? Do you like to guess the ending or prefer to just go along for the ride? Do you have problems with watching foreign films?

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Movies/Television, Writing

Lessons in Writing from Alfred Hitchcock.

Im-a-writer-and-therefore

As a child, it was watching the film Picnic at Hanging Rock that fired my imagination, but it was Alfred Hitchcock that made me want to become a writer. This may sound strange, but I grew up heavily influenced by film. Watching images on the screen helped me to see the images within my own mind. As Alfred Hitchcock played such a huge influence on my life, here are some lessons I have learnt from him regarding both writing and suspense.

‘The only way to get rid of my fears is to make films about them’.

Replace the word ‘films’ with ‘books’ and this statement can be pretty well spot on. Our fears may not just be of monsters or murderers, but of the fears we may face in our everyday lives; betrayal, abuse, infidelity, bullying. We’ve all experienced fear at one time or another; it’s a basic human emotion. We’re writers because this is how we express ourselves best and what better way to reach our audience than through emotion.

‘The length of the film should be directly related to the endurance of the human bladder’.

As readers, it’s exciting to read a book that you can’t put down. We may even stay up late into the night to find out what’s going to happen next all the way to the very end. Readers have become hooked and can be eager to read more of that author’s work, and as writers, this is exactly what we want to happen – for our readers to keep reading.

‘Drama is life with the dull bits taken out’.

No-one wants to watch everything that goes on in a person’s life in order to get to the best parts – even reality television doesn’t do that. It’s the same for our stories. The reader is more interested in the plot; the action. Sure we need scenes with less action, but they need to help move the plot forward. This is when we need good editing and beta readers to help us out. An extra pair of eyes can help us weed out the dull bits to help keep our story on track.

‘Always make the audience suffer as much as possible’.

Due to the nature of traditional publishing, authors are well known to have long spells between books, especially in a series. This is one of the reasons why authors have taken to self-publishing. Yes, authors want their readers to be eager for their next book, but if they are expected to wait too long, readers may well lose interest altogether. Readers will move on to another author willing to fill that gap. This is why authors having a backlist, as well as writing short stories and novellas, has proved popular. Fulfilling this need for readers helps ensure a loyal customer base.

Have you learnt any lessons through film? What influenced you to become a writer?

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Up Close & Personal, Writing

Writing from Experience: Bringing it Home.

2011 is shaping up to be a personal year for me.  Events have taken place that I feel compelled to write about them and others throughout my childhood.  Writing personal essays has now become a part of my writing agenda.

I have been reading books on essays, including Writing from Personal Experience by Nancy Davidoff Kelton and Writing Articles from the Heart by Marjorie Homes.  I have found them both helpful and motivating and I have since compiled a list of possibilities to write about.  Reading these books have also helped with my novels.

My first novel begins with a hit and run accident.  I was left wondering if my writing sounded convincing enough when revealing the emotions of my characters.  It was not until I was going over my personal experiences that I discovered I must have had some kind of repressed memory.  I was in primary school when my grandfather was hit by a truck.  He died instantly.  Images and emotions of the days that followed flashed through my mind.  I did know about such an event; I know how that feels.  I feel I can now do my re-writes with more confidence.

It’s also funny how timing comes into our lives.  Through my husband’s work, he forwarded on a link to a Victorian Roads commercial.  This video is both graphic and confronting, yet it brings the message home.  It, too, has allowed me to focus on the emotions and the people who are left behind.  Since watching this video, I have discovered that looking outside the box is a helpful tool.

As Nancy Davidoff Kelton writes in her book:  ‘Writing isn’t about going far.  It’s about going far within’.

How far are you willing to travel?