Thursday, November 28, 2013

Why I'm Thankful for an Awful TV Movie About a Tormented Closet Case Starring the Mom from Harry Potter and Cora from Downton Abbey


Janet McTeer in Daphne: "That's what I get for not reading the script."

Five years ago this Thanksgiving my life changed forever, but it would be months before I knew it.

As I slept that night, a stranger who couldn't sleep – a stranger then living hundreds of miles away – found herself watching the BBC Two production of Daphne and regarding the screen with increasing disbelief at its epic crumminess. By the end, having watched a sullen and snappish Daphne du Maurier (lifelessly rendered by Geraldine Somerville) sulk and throw tantrums for 90 minutes because Ellen Doubleday (played by Elizabeth McGovern in the same pinched, pale style she now brings to her role as Cora on Downton Abbey), the publisher's wife and heterosexual object of her desire, couldn't magically turn gay for her – this while alternately rejecting Janet McTeer's Gertrude Lawrence and having strangely unsexy extramarital rendezvous with her – the insomniac was borderline enraged.

Turning to Google, she looked for reassurance that she wasn't alone in the opinion that Daphne was, for want of a more polite term, unmitigated crap. That's when she found this little whatsit I'd posted months earlier. And then, with a click of the mouse, the insomniac and I were introduced, more or less by search engine algorithm. Had she conducted the same search a week earlier or later, had the tides of the Internet shifted, she might have been treated to different results. Sometimes in the present day, when I say or do something idiotic (an event that reliably happens in hourly intervals), she must turn toward the heavens and mournfully cry, "Why didn't I use Yahoo?!" But Google brought us together that night, though it would be awhile still before we met.

Boredom compelled the insomniac to read more of my posts (as boredom had once compelled me to write them), but I remained unaware of her existence until some months later, when she sent the tiniest of e-mails to congratulate me on a minor achievement. I responded with similar (and uncharacteristic) brevity. We did not know each others' names then or really anything about each other. Our exchanges were short and impersonal. For weeks I was uncertain even of her gender and privately entertained the notion – it was possible, I knew, based on the demographics of my readership – that she was a drag queen.

So naturally it follows that we'd end up together within months (it turns out she wasn't a drag queen), and that today we will celebrate our fifth Thanksgiving as a couple. We have marked the occasion in all of our previous Novembers together by watching Daphne on Thanksgiving, after spending the day before Thanksgiving groaning at the thought of having to watch Daphne. When I mentioned last week that it was almost Daphne time, the insomniac groaned, "Already?!", much as she glares at me throughout the year when I sing "There Is Nothing Like a Dame" while preparing dinner or deliberately provoke her with cheerful references to "queer anti-climaxes" and "the most extraordinary thrill." 

Today would mark, for this poor woman who has been burdened enough by choosing me for her partner, the sixth year in a row of watching Daphne. To give her something to be thankful for this year, besides our health and our love and the life we've built together, I am officially releasing her from the bondage of Daphne. We don't have to watch a "keen archer" stomp around the moors tonight, indignant that a straight lady won't put out for her. We don't have to listen to any of that business about being "a boy of eighteen" when one is actually a middle-aged woman. Instead we can watch whatever she wants, if she wants to watch anything at all. I do hope, though, that it isn't Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. One viewing of that was enough.

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