Rebecca is finally available to stream on Netflix, and I for one cannot wait for everyone to get the chance to watch this movie. It’s fun, it’s creepy, it’s visually stunning, and it’s sure to introduce a new generation to an age-old classic. For more of my thoughts, make sure to check out my advanced review.
In advance of the premiere on Netflix, I was fortunate enough to get the chance to talk to director Ben Wheatley about the movie.
Please do be warned, though: this interview contains some spoilers for the plot of the book. If you’re not familiar with the story behind Rebecca, I would honestly recommend waiting until you’ve seen the movie to read this, because I really do think that going in blind enhances the viewing experience by a lot.
De Maurier’s 1938 novel Rebecca is, obviously, a beloved classic, and the 1940 adaptation was wildly successful. There have also been several TV adaptations, so making a brand-new version in 2020 is no easy task. However, Wheatley is confident that he’ll be able to offer a fresh take on the story:
“I think the shadow that is across me, and the thing I fear, is the book. It’s not [The 1940 Hitchcock film]. The book is a well beloved classic, and the responsibility of putting it to screen is huge,” he says, going on to add that this movie doesn’t include any references to previous adaptations.
“I think the main difference between the two [movies] is the Hays code, and the problems that they had with the original adaptation. They could never show a character that committed a crime and then got away with the crime.”
This change, he says, makes a huge difference in the story.
“The whole thing about what De Maurier has done is, like, it’s not just a matter of tracking different characters and worrying about ‘Are they good? Are they bad?’ You have to worry about yourself being good or bad, because you’re kind of willing the couple to get away with murder three quarters of the way through the movie.
“That was one of the big things that attracted me to it. The chance to sort of bring that to the screen, and because there had only been one screen adaptation – the Hitchcock one – [and it] hadn’t done that.”
One of the other big things that attracted Wheatley to the project was the way the story jumped around between genres, going from romance to gothic to mystery.
“It’s not one film. It’s, like, four films, or five films with the price of entry for one movie. And it gives you that feeling that you’ve really travelled over time and distance, so by the end of the movie, the memories of France are so far away, and you have this kind of glowing, warm feeling that you were on holiday a while ago. […] To get to do a courtroom drama and a ghost story and a romantic half-hour at the top was kind of a treat.”
Another fun element of the movie? Its setting. Wheatley says the process of finding the right location for Mandeley was a particularly difficult one. They looked first at the house in which De Maurier wrote the book, then the one she had apparently based Mandeley off of, which in the end wasn’t quite grand enough to be Mandeley.
“It felt to me that, really, Mandeley is the memory of a house, or it’s a memory from the perspective of a child, so everything is massive and overpowering and it’s a place that doesn’t actually exist. So we were never going to find one location that was going to make it work.”
In the end, they settled for several houses.
“You know, there are two kinds of styles of these houses: one is, like, new money, and you just build the thing from scratch, and that’s it, it’s done. [The other one is] the family building it over hundreds of years, so you’ll have a Tudor house inside of an Edwardian house inside of a Victorian house and whatever, and each generation will knock a bit down and build a new bit, so you get these houses, which are just a mismatch of architectural styles inside it, and also the passageways inside it have no rhyme or reason, and that’s kind of what we were after. The idea wasn’t an actual, physical space, but a dream space.”
Of course, Mandeley can’t exist without the presence of the film’s titular character, Rebecca. Wheatley says that Rebecca was incorporated into the film in multiple ways, at various levels that might not be obvious upon the first viewing.
“It’s kind of like her theme is assembling itself across the movie, [in music and] in sound design. A lot of the environmental stuff in Mandeley, every door handle, every drawer that’s pulled out, they don’t have the sounds of the things that they are; they’re the sounds of guns being cocked, and boats. So the house itself seems to be telling the audience what’s happened and what the secret is.”
Part of the mystery of Rebecca’s character is how everything we know about her comes from other characters. She’s everywhere in the story, and yet she doesn’t really have a voice, and Wheatley thinks that’s one of the most interesting things about the story.
“She exists as someone that’s reported by the other characters, but whether or not you believe what’s being said is part of how De Maurier works, because the film itself is not just a memory; it’s a memory of a dream, and you’re being reported to by the second Mrs. De Winter. So do you trust her? Do you trust Maxim De Winter’s reporting of what Rebecca was like? Because he’s the only one who was there when she died. So I would put a big question mark on whether what he’s saying is true or not. And then Mrs. Danvers is also quite slippery in that respect as well, like where is the truth there? And then the final person is probably De Maurier, because she plays fast and loose with the facts across the story as well.”
Rebecca is available to stream on Netflix worldwide.