Cherry Cookson’s 1989 production of Rebecca (BBC7) was perhaps the first to focus on the threatening influence of the past; how it dominates Maxim de Winter’s (Christopher Cazenove’s) life, and prevents him from enjoying married life to his new wife (Janet Moore). The focus of that past is centred on Manderley and its housekeeper Mrs. Danvers (Rosalie Crutchley) who is not the cruel brute trying to force the second Mrs. De Winter to commit suicide, but rather someone totally unwilling (or unable) to accept Rebecca’s death. The second Mrs. De Winter’s presence only served to exacerbate her feelings. As Maxim, Cazenove was so haunted by the past that he could not enjoy the present; his second marriage was a foolish mistake. This made for uncomfortable listening, as we realised that despite the second Mrs. De Winter’s efforts to forge a relationship with someone she really loves, she is more and more likely to end up on her own. In Alfred Hitchcock’s famous version of the film (1940), the climactic scene ends with Manderley burning to the ground, marking the death of the last: Maxim and his wife can look forward to a new life in the present. In Cookson’s adaptation the fire served to throw Maxim’s guilt into sharper focus; he has not only killed Rebecca, but contributed to Mrs. Danvers’s demise. She might have started the blaze, but had been driven to do so by Maxim’s decision to marry again. The past continues to weigh heavily on Maxim’s shoulders.
Cookson’s production unfolded at a great lick, with the cast in fine form. I especially liked Nickolas Grace’s Favell – Rebecca’s cousin and erstwhile lover – who could never utter a line without sneering.