Viola Davis loved Ann Weisgarber’s The Personal History of Rachel Dupree so much she optioned the rights in 2011. Somewhere along the line Claire McCarthy became attached to the project as writer/director and now there’s news that Idris Elba (I’ve just finished binge watching Luther) and Naomie Harris (I’m excited to see Harris and Ewan McGregor in Our Kind of Traitor) are on board.
The Personal History of Rachel DuPree is a John Ford movie...with black people! It's spectacular! Really great! I can't put it down. I've never read anything like it!"
-Viola Davis, Academy Award-nominated and Tony Award-winning actress
The film’s producers will be heading to Cannes, looking to pick up foreign buyers. Harris will play Rachel with Idris Elba cast as her husband, a former Buffalo soldier. While Davis may have originally optioned the book with the role of Rachel in mind for herself, it’s not clear to me whether Davis, who is executive producing the film, will play a role in the movie.
The author says images like this one inspired her while writing the book
Here’s the filmmaker's description:
Rachel, heavily pregnant, is holed up in her isolated Badlands ranch with her five starving children. Taunted by secrets and lies from a marriage to a man she barely knows, Rachel finds herself playing an unsettling game of cat and mouse with her husband: she knows her family will never survive the impending bitter winter, and she knows that he will never allow them to leave. Rachel is forced to take matters into her own hands as she takes stock of her choices and prepares to fight for her family’s survival and for values that are worth more than land, ambition and public appearance.
The lowdown on the book is more expansive:
When Rachel, hired help in a Chicago boardinghouse, falls in love with Isaac, the boardinghouse owner's son, he makes her a bargain: he'll marry her, but only if she gives up her 160 acres from the Homestead Act so he can double his share. She agrees, and together they stake their claim in the forebodingly beautiful South Dakota Badlands.
Fourteen years later, in the summer of 1917, the cattle are bellowing with thirst. It hasn't rained in months, and supplies have dwindled. Pregnant, and struggling to feed her family, Rachel is isolated by more than just geography. She is determined to give her surviving children the life they deserve, but she knows that her husband, a fiercely proud former Buffalo Soldier, will never leave his ranch: black families are rare in the West, and land means a measure of equality with the white man. Somehow Rachel must find the strength to do what is right-for herself, and for her children.
So, not a picnic in the park. It sounds dark, a bit bleak and I love the idea of seeing black Americans on screen in a historical context that is so little-known to most of us. And re-pairing Elba and Harris, who were first seen together in Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom sounds like a smart idea.
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Have you read the book? How do you think the material will transition from book to screen?
Additional images used by Ann Weisgarber as inspiration while writing the novel on her website.