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Daphne du Maurier

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Alfred Hitchcock’s film The Birds celebrates its 60th birthday

Daphne du Maurier’s short story The Birds was first published in the collections called The Apple Tree: A Short Novel and Several Long Stories in the UK in 1952 and Kiss Me Again Stranger in the US in 1953.  Alfred Hitchcock released the film of the story in 1963.  From that moment on, The Birds became the most important story within those collections, and when subsequent editions of the books were published, for example, in the Penguin edition (1963) and the currently available Virago edition (2004), the title was changed to The Birds and Other Stories.

On 28th March 2023, the film of The Birds will be sixty years old.  Vastly different from the original short story, Hitchcock moved the location to Bodega Bay in California.  In the short story, the theme is one of isolation as the tiny community in a quiet corner of Cornwall is torn apart physically and mentally by the terrifying and relentless attacks of the birds.  Daphne was inspired to write the story when she saw the farmer ploughing one of his fields on the land of Menabilly Barton Farm, next to the Menabilly Estate, where she was living.  As the farmer drove his tractor up and down, the birds followed, swooping down repeatedly for the food he was unearthing, and Daphne wondered what would happen if the birds just kept coming, more and more of them.  Readers of the story will know what happens when the birds return for frequent attacks and the fear and desolation of the story.

In Hitchcock’s film, the number of people involved in the plot and the surges of the attacking birds is much greater.  With the advantage of cinema, Hitchcock built up the tension bit by bit, like a ticking bomb, as the birds became increasingly violent.   Scenes include an attack on the children as they run screaming from their school.  Melanie Daniels, the female lead, played by Tippy Hedren, has visited Bodega Bay on a whim and is soon embroiled in the horror of the attacking birds, herself the victim of a terrifying attack.

The short story and the film tell the same story with totally different backgrounds.  Despite the film being pretty horrifying, the short story is, if anything, darker and more terrifying because of the sense of isolation.  We think this is fair; after all, it was Daphne’s story to tell!

If you have never seen the film, do watch it; if you have seen it, watch it again.  It is so impactful, every time you watch it, that it warrants viewing many times.

But also, most importantly, read the short story.  You might want to leave the lights on and lock the doors and windows when you do!

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