When you tackle a project like adapting Daphne du Maurier’s novel Rebecca to film, you have your work cut out for you. Alfred Hitchcock’s 1940 work was phenomenal. PBS broadcast two versions of it on TV in serial form. Now Ben Wheatley has brought a new adaptation to Netflix, and some critics have been less than kind about his vision.
In fact Wheatley did a superb job, and he actually topped other directors by emphasizing the classism prevailing in Great Britain during the era the novel was set, around the 1920s/1930s. As you watch the latest film about one of the most memorable characters in Western lit, it becomes obvious the help knew their place and quite a few at the top of the help worked actively to maintain the status quo.
The film and the novel also embraced the concept of women’s rights, in a discreet, non-preachy way. By showing just how vulnerable the new Mrs. de Winter is—we never even know her first name—the film gives a good idea of how far women’s rights have come in the last century.
In the Netflix film, I actually preferred Armie Hammer’s depiction of Maxim de Winter to all male actors in the four versions I’ve seen. Hammer brought a quiet intensity to the screen, and a more relatable character. I liked that we saw a more likable character in the early scenes and we have a more in depth look at the whirlwind love affair before Manderley—it’s a setting and a character of sorts—enters the picture physically.
Manderley’s character is far more complex in this adaptation. We don’t just see a spooky Gothic mansion. We also see the stark beauty of that seaside estate figuring in every scene, directly and indirectly.
Lily James as the new “Mrs. de Winter” did a splendid job as she morphs from naïve, sweet lady’s companion to a stoic wife ultimately fighting to save her husband and her marriage. As the film closes we see a much changed Mrs. de Winter, and the manifestation is bittersweet.
Kristin Scott Thomas drives the creepy, scheming Mrs. Danvers’ personality home in a magnificent way. Even knowing outcomes, I almost believed her in the scene where she says she hasn’t helped Mrs. De Winter because the newlywed hasn’t asked for help. Thomas’ portrayal of Mrs. Danvers makes us uneasy not because she’s a cutout for a wicked woman, but because we see more of her obsession with the first Mrs. de Winter and we understand why Danvers is so hostile to anyone taking the first wife’s place at Manderley.
There are differences between Wheatley’s version and some other productions, but this latest adaptation pleased me greatly. As we neared the surprise ending, it was all I could do to refrain from telling my husband what was about to happen.
I loved the novel I read as a teen. ‘Rebecca’ is a family name for both sides of my ancestry, and the women who carried that name were very strong although none were as wealthy as Rebecca de Winter. I always viewed her as a sly, nuanced Lady Macbeth in some ways, although Lady Macbeth was not an adulterer. Rebecca hovers in almost every scene although we don’t see her in the flesh; she is truly the ghost that haunts all who occupy the fabulously Gothic estate Manderley.
I highly recommend the Netflix film Rebecca directed by Ben Wheatley. He did a masterful job with a masterpiece. The critics who are naysayers are, quite frankly, nuts.
~~Featured Photo: Armie Hammer (left) with Lily James in the Netflix film adaptation of ‘Rebecca’. Snip from Netflix promo page.
(Kay B. Day/Oct. 26, 2020)