Daphne du Maurier’s classic 1938 novel “Rebecca” is no stranger to the stage or screen. Perhaps the most celebrated adaptation is Alfred Hitchcock’s 1940 Academy Award Best Picture winner. It was Hitchcock’s very first American production and the first film in his rather bumpy seven-year deal with film producer and studio executive David O. Selznick.
Director Ben Wheatley is the latest to take a stab at this alluring romantic thriller working from a script written by the team of Jane Goldman, John Shrapnel, and Anna Waterhouse. This new Netflix Original stars the vastly underrated Lily James, the busy Armie Hammer, and the always great Kristen Scott Thomas. It gets off to a strong start, smartly and smoothly manages its significant shift in tone, and then brings everything to light in a satisfying but hurried finale.
In “Rebecca” James plays a young woman working as an assistant to a wealthy and pompous crow named Mrs. Van Hopper (Ann Dowd). Much like in Daphne du Maurier’s popular novel, James’ character is given no name yet we learn all we need to know about her through the unfolding story. We learn she comes from a meager background. She lost her parents two years earlier. She’s smart, loves sketching, and dreams of traveling which is why she works for the globetrotting Mrs. Van Hopper. “Everything I know is from books. I haven’t really experienced anything yet.” Oh how that is about to change.
The story gets going in Monte Carlo with the young woman and Mrs. Van Hopper settled in at the posh Hotel Regina. It’s the first of several instances where the movie explores the subject of class and upper-crust snobbery. The assistant is repeatedly reminded of her role as “staff” or “help”. She’s verbally belittled by her employer, denied dining privileges, and given those haughty, dismissive glances from the rich pampered guests. This is a theme that the film revisits later on.
While running errands for her boss the young woman repeatedly crosses paths with the tall, dashing aristocrat Maxim de Winter (Hammer). Against all odds, the two hit it off and begin a simmering summer romance. She is swept away by the charming yet mysterious Maxim, a recent widower who brushes aside any questions about his late wife Rebecca.
After a spur of the moment proposal, the two marry, have a brief honeymoon, and then settle into Maxim’s huge Manderley estate. It’s an almost mythological family property that has been passed from fathers to sons for generations. A beautiful and lavish mansion, Manderley resembles something plucked right out of a new bride’s storybook dream. But the new Mrs. de Winter quickly learns that her husband has his secrets and the memories of Rebecca haunt every room and every hall. To make matters worse she quickly finds herself at odds with the cold and devious Mrs. Danvers (Kristen Scott Thomas), the chief housekeeper with an uneasy attachment to Mandeley.
“Rebecca” may surprise those unfamiliar with its story. It turns a simply-looking romance built around naïveté and secrets into an unexpectedly empowering story driven by three very different women. The delightfully expressive Lily James makes an enchanting lead. Thomas imbues Mrs. Danvers with an unsettling menace. And the third woman, Rebecca herself, is someone we never really see. Yet the film does a terrific job showing the grip she maintains on Manderley well after her death. And the chilling echoes of her influence haunts her husband, their home, and really anyone close to her.
My biggest beef is with the last act. Wheatley flies through the final twenty minutes or so, covering so much ground in an effort to wrangle together the story’s numerous moving parts. It all comes together neatly enough, but you’ll need to be focused and locked in to keep it all together. Still, there’s so much to admire about this latest “Rebecca”. It maintains a wonderful period feel thanks to Julian Day’s costumes and Katie Spencer’s set design. Laurie Rose’s stellar cinematography vividly captures the beautiful sun-soaked Monte Carlo as well as the gloomy, atmospheric Mandeley. It’s anchored by a wonderful cast and a story that still has the same kick it’s had for 80+ years. “Rebecca” premieres October 21st on Netflix.
I’m looking forward to seeing this one next week! I’m glad it’s generally worth watching.
I quite liked it. Some of the other early reviews found it slow but I was really drawn to its pace and its characters. James is only getting better as an actress.
I like Lily James but I do not like Armie Hammer so I’ll probably skip this. I do plan on watching the original eventually though.
I’m not high on Hammer either but he’s actually a good fit for this role. Especially in the final half as his character ‘transforms’ a bit.
I saw previews of this awhile back and thought it looked good. Read your review up to where they begin their romance. It’s been too long since knowing the Rebecca story so I can be surprised when I watch it. Anything with Armie Hammer in it is a must-watch for me.
He’s good in this. He fits his role really well. James is great and Kristen Scott Thomas is a scene stealer.
I know these are good actors, but really, this did not need a remake, the original is such a classic.
I agree, it doesn’t particularly need one. But I’m glad they did it. I was really surprised by how much I liked it. James and Thomas are soooo good.
I haven’t seen the original version of Rebecca which is why I don’t want to watch this film as I want to watch Hitchcock’s version first and then this version.
I can understand that. Hitchcock’s version is easily the best, but this is a fun one too.
Huh, this really doesn’t sound Ben Wheatley-esque. Between this and Free Fire (which I really enjoyed!) he seems to be going more mainstream. That being said, it’s his name and the two leads that really have me somewhat interested in Rebecca. Not my kind of story typically, but it’s hard to go wrong with that cast.
It’s coming to Netflix in a few days so it’s definitely worth checking. Goes in some interesting directions which I really enjoyed. And I love seeing Lily James getting more leading roles.
Yay! I’m glad you liked it. It will be hard to beat the beautiful classic, but I’m game for a watch. 🙂
Oh yes, do go in with the idea of comparing it. Hitch has this one beat. Still, this is a well done romantic thriller with a really good cast.
I’m looking forward to seeing this. I’ve never read the novel nor seen any of the adaptions, so I’ll be going in fresh. Lily James is a definite draw.
Nice! Be sure to tell me what you think of it. It’s getting mixed reviews but I’m definitely on the positive side.