Books to films: Don’t Look Now

This is the first of two blog posts based on two short stories by Daphne Du Maurier that became very successful films. Don’t Look Now is the first of the two and was recommended to me by my colleague as I was about to go to Venice on holiday. I watched the film the night before I left and read the story while I was there.

Plot

John and Laura Baxter, a couple on holiday in Venice to help get over the death of their daughter. They meet two women from Scotland, one of whom is psychic and claims that she can see their daughter who is trying to contact them to warn them of danger. When Laura is suddenly called back to England to attend to their son who has had an accident, John is left alone with his grief and after thinking that he has seen his wife with the two sisters, a desperate police search for Laura and the sisters begins, and John is lead through the streets of Venice by a mysterious figure in a red, hooded coat.

The book 

Don’t Look Now started as a short story by Daphne Du Maurier. The story is much less atmospheric than the film, partly due to the fact that the twist is explained to the reader rather than being revealed at the end. The writing style is quite dated with the Italian characters’ dialogue written with an Italian accent. As it is only a short story, there is less time in Venice and less time with the characters and it’s difficult to give a completely objective opinion as I watched the film first, but overall it includes all the key elements that go on to make a fantastic film and is an interesting read once you have seen the film.

The film

Now a classic, the film, directed by Nicholas Roeg has been called one of the greatest horror films of all time. Its reputation as a classic has grown over time and is renowned for its film cutting techniques and the love scene between the two main characters. Roeg has made a few key changes to the book.

Firstly, the film is set in Autumn at the end of the tourist season in Venice, rather than in the middle of summer. This adds a lot of atmosphere to the story as the weather is damp and dreary and the hotels and restaurants are starting to close for the winter. Secondly, the couple are not on holiday in the film, instead, John is working on restoring a church which allows the symbolism of art and religion to be woven throughout the story, along with the colour red, in particular the red hooded coat of the couple’s daughter.

Scenes are cut together so that the past, present and future, at times, seem to be happening at once but without the film being confusing. Most brilliantly, the climactic end is not the true twist. The twist comes from a piece of the puzzle falling into place right at the end and he does it in such a way to make it a truly chilling film. He takes the best of the short story and makes it into an exceptional film.

Next time, I will be reviewing The Birds…

Fiona, Brompton Library

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