It has become a long-standing tradition for classic works of fiction to be replicated on screen, and the same could be said for beloved pieces of cinema too. Daphne du Maurier’s gothic romance Rebecca, hailed as a ‘unique study in jealousy’ is no mean feat as a glossy new remake was released on Netflix and selected cinemas on October 21st.
Rarely has a book sent chills down my spine upon first reading, however its newest incarnation falls rather short of the mark. The film stars platinum blonde Lily James (currently a popular English rose choice) as the second Mrs de Winter, with Armie Hammer as her tortured husband Maxim and a deliciously chilling performance from Kristin Scott Thomas as housekeeper Mrs Danvers. Such an ensemble should have been an ideal fit for the roles, with each actor already boasting impressive CVs. One of the main things that the film tries to do is offer a fresh, modern take of the story for a new generation of viewers, but is this enough? As with many films that adapt literary source material, the end product eventually comes to lack what the book creates – a deeply unsettling story of a second marriage and the ghostly memory that threatens to destroy it.
One of the biggest challenges of adapting a book, especially into the constraints of a two-
hour film, is capturing the true essence of the themes, characters, and plot. Inevitably, certain
details will get the chop in favour of what are deemed the most important when reaching the film’s
Of course, the film’s atmosphere and 1930s costumes look gorgeous – faithfully beginning with the opening line ‘last night I went to Manderley again…’ flashing back to the halcyon days at Monte Carlo and then the impending doom of Manderley. However, director Ben Wheatley seems to place style over substance, as the imposing presence of the de Winter estate marks a suspenseful build up of tragic secrets and melodramatic plot turns. James’ performance of a shy, naïve heroine feeling completely out of her depth under the shadow of her husband’s former wife, Rebecca improves over time, whereas Armie Hammer unconvincingly portrayed a rather flat, albeit occasionally angry Maxim. What grounded the piece for me was Scott Thomas’ stellar turn on a Mrs Danvers who we can sympathize with. For those who have seen Hitchcock’s definitive 1940 rendition of the novel, a coldly jealous Judith Anderson seeks to jeopardize the newlyweds’ married life in devotion to the beloved Rebecca. However, here we see a more complex Danvers, echoing quiet feminist rage against her obsessive power, and this is really the unsettling presence that makes the story so haunting.
Overall, Rebecca makes a good impression at first glance, but is let down by the somewhat
‘easy’ rushed conclusion following its dramatic climax. In this new age where cinema has found its
home in streaming sites like Netflix, this would make for tolerable viewing on a rainy afternoon. But
would du Maurier be turning in her grave to see her literary masterpiece altered for worse? It seems
just like the second Mrs de Winter, the film pales in comparison to its source material and
screen predecessors, and only needed to find the confidence to stand on its own two feet. If
anything, the line ‘All I’ve ever known is from books’ encourages me to take the novel down from my shelf once more and enjoy its dark luxurious prose until a better adaptation comes along.