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Seeking to escape the stifling London court society, the beautiful headstrong Lady Dona St. Columb flees to her family estate on the Cornish coast. Her new freedom swiftly brings her into contact with the dashingly handsome French privateer Jean Aubrey who sweeps her off her feet and into a world of adventure on the high seas very different from her dull and boring life at court with her husband Sir Harry. Together with Jean Aubrey and her enigmatic servant William, Lady Dona conceives a daring plan to steal a ship right from under the noses of the English authorities. The theft enrages the authorities who make every effort to trap the French Pirate. However, as the noose begins to tighten around the lovers, Lady Dona is faced with the dilemma of duty and children with Sir Harry or freedom and excitement with Jean Aubrey.Written by
Mark Smith <firstname.lastname@example.org>
1998 television movie starring Tara Fitzgerald and Anthony Delon in a new re-telling of the Daphne Du Maurier bestseller, Frenchman's Creek.
Having read this book many, many times over the years, I was ready to be thrilled by a new adaptation. The last version of this story that I know of was a Hollywood theatrical release from 1944 with Joan Fontaine & Arturo de Cordova (who was delightful to look at but wasn't much of an actor). So, I settled back and hoped I would love this! My reaction to the film is a bit mixed: I thought the actors were quite wonderful - Tara Fitzgerald was lovely and spirited, as I would expect. New to me was Anthony Delon as the Frenchman, Jean Aubrey. He was gorgeous! Fantastic charisma on screen. I also thought Daniel Webb as William was excellent - a perfect recreation of the character from the novel. As well, I really enjoyed James Fleet as Dona's husband, Sir Harry. His role was played with great sympathy and was written with more complexity than what Daphne Du Maurier envisioned, but this worked for me. I liked him - which was a feeling you don't get from the novel.
This is where my comments become mixed. I felt that they might as well have retitled this film, as it was not a faithful recreation of the novel upon which it is based. There were a few points which were right on (such as William's characterization) but beyond a few similarities, there were far too many outright story inventions and that somewhat spoiled my enjoyment of the film. One of my main criticisms was with the loss of the wit in the character of the Frenchman and the wonderful repartee between him and Dona, that was such an enchanting part of the book. Certain character traits of his, such as his artistic bent (in the novel he is first seen by Dona, not doing deeds of piracy, but sitting at his desk drawing birds!) were completely thrown away in favour of action scenes. I understand that the film had to move quickly, as it was under 2 hours, but I feel that some of the elements of the novel which made it particularly memorable, were excised, so the film simply becomes an adventure yarn without a lot of character.
Some of the invented scenes were simply strange to me: for example - Dona's daughter telling on her mother. In the novel, the little girl is much younger and is not a realized character, and Daphne du Maurier wrote it that way for a reason. By inventing at least 3 scenes with the daughter that never occurred in the novel, the film version veered quite far from its roots and I feel the story was not improved by these inventions. As well, much of the dialogue was invented and that was a disappointment. Du Maurier was known for brilliantly conveying mood, but she also often wrote some very clever stuff for her characters to say and very little of it ends up here.
I also didn't understand why this adaptation had so much politics inserted in it. The scenes detailing the changeover from one monarchy to another (James II to William & Mary) are nowhere present in the novel. (I just re-read it so I know!) Du Maurier in this book was more interested in people than politics and those scenes for me in the film just detracted from the main story, that of the relationship between the Frenchman and Dona. Lastly, the scenes near the end of the movie, again, were so very different from the novel that I was somewhat annoyed. The novel has some choice moments of humour (especially near the end) that give it an unusually realistic feel, even for its time (originally published in 1940) and these things were entirely lost to this film adaptation. I had hoped to see the spirit of the book brought to life, but unfortunately I felt that was not achieved here.
I would have to agree with one of the other comments posted here: that if you loved the novel, watch this with reservations! That said, you may find, as I did, that the acting is still exciting and vivid enough to keep one's interest. On the other hand, if you haven't read the novel, you may just love the film. It has all the romance, intrigue, wonderful location photography, costuming and great accents that one hopes for in a production of this sort (produced partly by WGBH Boston).
The charisma between the two leads is terrific and there is (like the novel) a well-realized picture of how all the men who come into contact with Dona fall under her spell. She is an unusual woman for her time and one gets the sense that all the men know it: from her husband, Sir Harry, who doesn't understand her; to William the manservant who does not judge her, but seems to see in her the female equivalent of his master; to Lord Rockingham (a great character!) who is full of passion for her; finally to the Frenchman who cannot resist her; it's a great part and Tara Fitzgerald does a fine job of convincing us that Dona is, as the Frenchman says, "a dangerous woman!"
I'd love to see this done as a 4 or 6 hour mini-series, like the BBC/A&E version of Pride & Prejudice. With enough time to really develop character (and a screenwriter intent on keeping to the original storyline), this could be a great film! Until such time as that is done, enjoy this for what it is: a lovely looking adventure/romance flick.
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