A celebrated woman of letters, Daphne du Maurier’s stories have provided rich fodder for filmmakers. Hitchcock directed Jamaica Inn (a rare misfire), Rebecca and The Birds; My Cousin Rachel made Richard Burton a star and Nicolas Roeg's Don’t Look Now was an eerie study in terror. The filmmakers behind this biopic sought inspiration in du Maurier’s letters, particularly those addressed to her publisher’s wife, Ellen Doubleday. Basing their work upon this private correspondence, they not only managed to uncover a secret affair but also produce an absolutely dreadful film.
Cornwall, 1952. du Maurier receives devastating news that a female acquaintance has died. But who is it? Flashback seven years earlier, where du Maurier is adjusting to life with a husband recently returned from WWII. Compounding her distress, the author needs to travel to America to defend herself against accusations of plagiarism for her bestselling novel 'Rebecca'. Relief arrives in the form of Ellen Doubleday, who accompanies her on the trip to the States. du Maurier becomes enamoured by Ellen, awakening what she would later codify as ‘Venetian tendencies’. Yet when these are not reciprocated, du Maurier unexpectedly finds comfort with another fellow traveller.
Stultifyingly tedious, this is the sort of film that gives BBC melodramas a bad name. With the awkward staging and pacing of a filmed television play, Daphne falls resoundingly flat. When main characters are not engaged in sharing pensive looks between each other, they are staring off to the horizon contemplating their latest loss. Car rides are filmed against fake back projection, location changes are conveyed by a different hotel room with a title stating the time and place (1949 Venice, 1950 Florida, etc), and the same band appears at various parties set years apart.
It does however contain a funny joke told by Janet McTeer as Gertrude Lawrence, the biopic’s one saving grace.
as Daphne du Maurier
as Gertrude Lawrence
as Noel Coward
Gertrude Lawrence’s only child has refuted claims about her mothers' intimate relationship with Daphne du Maurier.
"I would have no moral objection to her having a lesbian relationship, but she was the last person in the world to do so... if my mother was a lesbian, how is it that no one in her family, or among her friends, ever heard of any woman with whom she had an affair? But there were plenty of men."
Pamela Clatworthy (Gertrude Lawrence’s daughter)
Only reference to du Maurier's film work is a brief mention in a faux newsreel.