When the trailer for Rebecca (2020) first dropped, I, like so many young people who will be checking out this movie on October 21st, had no idea that it was an adaptation. I had somehow missed Daphne Du Maurier’s 1938 novel in High School English class, and had never heard of the 1940 adaptation. Sitting down to watch the screener on Netflix, I had absolutely no expectations.
And my goodness, my mind was blown.
Rebecca tells the story of a young woman (Lily James) who has a whirlwind romance with a wealthy man named Maxim De Winter (Armie Hammer). She marries him after a short courtship, and is soon whisked off to his mansion in Cornwall, where she meets the sinister housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers (Kristin Scott Thomas). The main character soon realizes that everyone at Manderley is completely obsessed with Mr. De Winter’s recently deceased first wife, Rebecca. In fact, the woman’s presence seems completely inescapable at Manderley, and the narrator soon begins to worry that she will spend the rest of her life being compared to Rebecca and found wanting.
The movie is visually stunning, brilliantly paced, and just creepy enough to fit the season without being outright scary. If you’re a fan of the book, or of the 1940 movie, I obviously can’t say much about how you’ll feel about this remake, but I do think it’s worth checking out. And if you, like me, are completely new to this story, I’d recommend keeping it that way until you watch this latest version, because it really enhances the viewing experience. You’ll also probably end up wanting to read the book once you’ve watched it. I certainly did. It’s definitely one of those movies you want to rewatch as soon as you finish it.
Adapting a book that’s written in first person to the screen is no easy task, but Ben Wheatley’s direction, paired with fantastic acting from everyone in the cast, puts you right inside the main character’s head without ever having to rely on voiceover. The creepyness of Manderley comes through especially well. There’s a very clear shift in tone as soon as the characters arrive there that gives you a good sense of how Lily James’s character is feeling at the moment. In a roundtable interview about Rebecca, Wheatley said that it was almost like he was making two different movies: the one that takes place before Manderley, and the one that takes place after they arrive there.
At points, it does become clear that Rebecca is based on a book that was written in 1938. It’s not exactly the most progressive movie, and it certainly doesn’t skirt around the more problematic elements of the original story, but those elements are addressed in a way that doesn’t make it seem like the movie is endorsing them. If anything, the problematic stuff just makes it that much more creepy.
I thoroughly enjoyed Rebecca, and I hope that this new adaptation will introduce a new generation to this classic story.
Rebecca premieres on Netflix on Wednesday, October 21st, 2020.