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Non-Review Review: Rebecca

The most shocking thing about Ben Wheatley’s adaptation of Rebecca is how tame it feels.

The bulk of the coverage of the adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s gothic romance focuses on the idea that Wheatley is tilting at cinematic windmills by daring to explore the same ground that Alfred Hitchcock had already so memorably mapped. Hitchcock is as close to a cinematic sacred cow as exists, and to attempt to remake one of his most beloved films would be tantamount to making another version of Gone with the Wind or restaging Casablanca. It is one of the rare lines that exists in a modern pop culture built around recycling existing intellectual property.

Maxim-um fun.

In truth, there’s nothing wrong with daring to approach the cinema of Alfred Hitchcock. After all, Park Chan-wook’s Stoker was very much an update of Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt. More than that, there are perhaps valid reasons for wanting to go to Manderley again. Hitchcock’s adaptation of du Maurier’s novel was constrained by the demands of the Production Code Authority, and forced to change key plot points and obscure others through subtext. While some observers might argue this renders the film more “artful”, it does justify a revisit in a less puritanical time.

However, Wheatley never manages to bring these ideas to the surface. His version of Rebecca never manages to quite articulate or express the anxieties lurking in the shadow of Hitchcock’s classic. Rebecca is a sleek and stylish production with a set of solid performances and a few flashes of visual vigour, but it lacks a strong sense of its own identity – often seeming disjointedly caught between its influences and its impulses, failing to reconcile the two into anything especially compelling.

A time for reflection.

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Non-Review Review: Military Wives

This film was seen as part of the Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival 2020. Given the high volumes of films being shown and the number of reviews to be written, these may end up being a bit shorter than usual reviews.

Military Wives is illustrates the appeal in hitting the right notes off the sheet music.

Military Wives is the latest entry in a particularly popular subgenre of midbudget film, the type of movie about a quirky hobby against the backdrop of everyday British life. There are any number of examples, from Swimming With Men to Finding Your Feet to Calendar Girls, arguably extending out to more class-conscious examples like Billy Elliot and Brassed Off. Perhaps the most iconic and successful example, the film which proved the international viability of the format, remains The Full Monty. These are films that largely hinge on an appealing juxtaposition between perceived British stoicism and enjoyable eccentricity.

Military Wives is loosely based on a true story of the military wives choir that became a minor national sensation when it played the Festival of Remembrance in 2011. Indeed, they went on to have a Christmas number one with their song Wherever You Are. However, Military Wives hews very closely to the established template. Once again, there is a conflict between stoicism and whimsy. The stoicism is of the most sombre sort, with the story focusing on the wives of soldiers deployed to Afghanistan, waiting to hear word home. The whimsy arises from the juxtaposition of having those wives sing Yazoo and Tears For Fears.

Military Wives never deviates too far from the template, but it doesn’t have to. Rachel Tunnard and Rosanne Flynn’s script understands why this sort of story works, and director Peter Cattaneo (a veteran of The Full Monty) is smart enough to trust actors Kristin Scott Thomas and Sharon Horgan to carry the film. There is occasionally a sense that Military Waves is working from a rough sketch rather than a finished plan, but it is mostly built to specifications.

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