Beginning Tuesday, June 19, 2012, TIFF Bell Lightbox features the series James Ivory: Elegant Pairings. Co-curated with James Ivory himself, the series consists of seven double features, one classic Merchant Ivory film followed by a second film that inspired or complements it. The opening night films include The Remains Of The Day and Rebecca, with both films featuring an introduction by James Ivory. For some pairings, the reasons they’re together may be quite obvious. For others, the reason is much more subtle. This seems to be the case for Alfred Hitchcock‘s Rebecca and James Ivory’s The Remains Of The Day.
At first glance, Rebecca and The Remains Of The Day may appear to have little in common. Hitchcock’s classic deals with an unnamed woman (Joan Fontaine) who meets grieving widower Maximilian de Winter (Laurence Olivier). The two quickly fall in love and are married within weeks. They return to Manderley, the sprawling mansion of Maximilian, but the new Mrs. de Winter is unaccustomed to such a lavish lifestyle, being raised an orphan. The housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson), reacts coldly to Mrs. de Winter, letting her know that she prefers Rebecca, the former Mrs. de Winter, who mysteriously drowned. While Mrs. Danvers attempts to push the new Mrs. de Winter away from Maximilian, secrets surrounding the death of Rebecca are revealed.
The Remains Of The Day tells the story of James Stevens (Anthony Hopkins), a butler at Darlington Hall. The film opens with James receiving a letter from Miss Kenton (Emma Thompson), a former employee at Darlington Hall who worked with James and is nostalgic of those times. A flashback takes the viewer to a time just before World War II as Miss Kenton arrives to begin work at Darlington Hall. James is cold and focused on his job, while Miss Kenton is much more open and warm, while still being very good at her work. Over time, Miss Kenton falls in love with James, but his cold manner keeps her at arm’s length, and it’s never revealed to the viewer whether he feels the same. While his employer’s life falls apart after supporting Germany into World War II, James continues to be the loyal servant, at the expense of his own life and love.
They may not seem that similar, but both films contain characters whose motivations are almost identical, although the outcomes are very different. The Remains Of The Day focuses on James, the extremely loyal butler who ignores the faults of his employer. Rebecca features Mrs. Danvers, who is equally loyal to her employer, but in a much more sinister way. Mrs. Danvers is obsessed with Rebecca, the former Mrs. de Winter, and goes to some extremes to be rid of Maximilian’s new wife. Both James and Mrs. Danvers would do whatever is required of them, but while James seems to hold the household together, Mrs. Danvers appears to be tearing it apart. Even though Mrs. Danvers is not the lead character in Rebecca like Hopkins is in The Remains Of The Day, she is the one who is most memorable.
The owners of the large estates — Maximilian in Rebecca and Lord Darlington (James Fox) in The Remains Of The Day — also share many similarities. Both men must deal with some deadly secrets, threatening to tear their lives apart. Lord Darlington’s support of the Nazis leaves him a broken and lonely man, while Maximilian has more to do with Rebecca’s death than anyone knows. This secret could also leave Maximilian broken and alone, should it be revealed. What really unites these two men is the fact that their loyal servants are either completely oblivious to their secrets, or consistently choose to ignore them.
Both homes manage to be the downfall of their servants as well. James denies himself the pleasures of life while serving Lord Darlington in The Remains Of The Day, while Mrs. Danvers seems to have denied herself sanity by faithfully serving Rebecca de Winter, even though she has died.
What makes this film series so interesting is the same thing that makes film in general so interesting. The audience is free to find their own comparisons and opinions on the films, each person bringing their own ideas to why these two films have been chosen. Perhaps you’ll disagree with the reasons offered here on the pairing of Rebecca with The Remains Of The Day. In the end, listening to a variety of opinions can open a new world into a film you’ve already watched, giving a new perspective on the events. This series offers all of us a chance to experience a classic film in a new way.
The Remains Of The Day and Rebecca screen on Tuesday, June 19, 2012 beginning at 5:30 pm as part of the James Ivory: Elegant Pairings film series. Tickets and information can be found on the TIFF website.
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