With Rebecca, Netflix took a deep dive and released an adaptation of the Daphne du Maurier gothic mystery novel Rebecca.
Most people know the story through Alfred Hitchcock’s debut American film, which won the Oscar for Best Picture. That gives this new Netflix version of Rebecca a lot to live up to.
Rebecca on Netflix review
Rebecca tells the story of a young woman who meets a wealthy and charming man and is swept off her feet and into marriage. However, when she arrives at his home, the Manderley, the ghosts of the past remain there to haunt her.
In this Netflix version, Lily James plays the new Mrs. de Winter, a young woman working as a companion to an older woman in Europe. However, she meets a wealthy widower named Maxim de Winter (Armie Hammer), and the two enjoy a whirlwind romance.
When the woman she works for decides to leave, Max proposes to her, and she accepts, becoming his new wife and starting her new life.
The new life is a nightmare from the start, as she meets the housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, a woman who completely adored Max’s late wife, Rebecca, and refuses to accept her replacement.
It also doesn’t help that Maxim sleepwalks, and there are rumors that he might have killed Rebecca.
Rebecca is not a ghost story, despite the talk of ghosts. However, it is a gothic romance that always has the spirit of Rebecca hanging over the house.
Maxim’s grandmother has dementia and refuses to accept he has any wife but Rebecca. There is a strange man that she meets by the waterside who laments the absence of Rebecca. There is also Jack (Sam Riley), Rebecca’s lover, who believes that Maxim killer her.
Things then heat up when a boat surfaces with Rebecca’s dead body in it. A trial is set, with two outcomes. Either Rebecca committed suicide, or Maxim killed her. Since Jack reveals she was pregnant, Maxim is arrested and goes on trial, and the new Mrs. de Winter has to decide what she plans to do to either escape or save her new husband.
This movie has two things going for it.
It looks amazing. Director Ben Wheatley is best known for psychological horror films such as Kill List and A Field in England. However, with this movie, he gives it the horror touch through nightmares and scenes of Mrs. de Winter searching for clues.
The first part of the movie takes its time to show the lush scenery and countryside, as Maxim and his future bride take on their whirlwind romance. This is as beautiful as you might expect from a prestigious gothic romance.
He also presents a true monster in Mrs. Danvers.
Kristin Scott Thomas is frightening as the housekeeper who can’t let go of her dead companion, Rebecca. She is pure evil, even trying to convince the new Mrs. de Winter to commit suicide herself, yet she still shows a touch of the pain she feels at the loss of her friend, especially if it was Maxim who could have killed her.
The acting straight across is solid. Lily James is solid in her role as the unsure and frightened bride while Hammer has mastered the aloof role required of him here.
However, neither of them had a chance of matching up with Joan Fontaine and the great Laurence Olivier from Hitchcock’s masterpiece, which is where the main problem with Rebecca lies.
Rebecca final thoughts
There seems to be no reason for Rebecca to exist in 2020.
The original film by Alfred Hitchcock is a masterpiece. It picked up 11 Oscar nominations and won for Best Picture and Best Cinematography. What Wheatley does here is giving it a run for its money with the look of the film.
However, the movie had no chance of reaching the level of Hitchcock’s original, which was added to the National Film Registry by the Libray of Congress in 2018.
That might not be fair, so it is always good to look at the film on its own.
What Hitchcock mastered over his career was creating tension and keeping viewers on the edge of their seats, which is what Rebecca is all about.
That doesn’t happen with this version. The movie is a slow burn with mysteries and dark secrets hidden throughout the Manderley. Things drift along slowly until the movie starts the court case.
It does present some breathtaking scenery, a fantastic acting turn from Kristin Scott Thomas, and some haunting scenes, as the new bride starts to lose herself in the mystery.
With all that in mind, this is a dutiful remake of the Hitchcock movie, and while there were small changes made here and there if you have seen that masterpiece, you have seen a superior version of this movie.
This Netflix version has a chance to introduce a new generation to the story, and that is good for those unwilling to watch classic movies for whatever reason. It is still a good story and beautifully shot, but it is just not on the same level as the original.
Rebecca is currently streaming on Netflix.