Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Rebecca ***

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 21st October, 2020

Kristin Scott Thomas and Lily James

I tend to avoid remakes like the coronavirus, especially when an original film still occupies a special place in my heart. I don’t know how many times I have watched Alfred Hitchcock’s 1940 Oscar-winning black and white version of Rebecca but I can still see flashbacks from it if I close my eyes. So I was a little nervous about seeing Ben Wheatley’s new version of Daphne du Maurier’s Gothic tale. Comparisons are odious, so I will try to avoid them (mainly) and judge the film on its merits. On the plus side, it is very beautiful. The stately pile that stands in for Manderley (Dorset’s Cranborne Manor) is unremittingly grand (perhaps too much so) but Kristin Scott Thomas is impressively creepy as the fiendish housekeeper, Mrs Danvers, who adored the late Mrs Rebecca de Winter with an unhealthy passion. Ann Dowd gives a very jolly performance as the ghastly American social lion-chaser, Mrs Van Hoppen, to whom the young woman who is the narrator in the book is working as a companion in Monte Carlo when Manderley’s owner “Maxim” materialises. A whirlwind love affair ensues and the young woman (unnamed in the book) becomes the second Mrs de Winter.

Lily James and Armie Hammer

Her life will take on sinister dimensions after their return to England as Rebecca’s posthumous presence is everywhere and the new chatelaine feels powerless and alone. Lily James (blonde in this part) is pretty and quite persuasive in the role. But Armie Hammer is a decade too young and too hunky to be a convincing Maxim. I suppose for 2020 audiences Ben Wheatley felt that there had to be a bit of nudity and intimacy between the newly-weds, but for me that lessened the suspense. To his credit, though, Wheatley keeps more faithfully to du Maurier’s plot when it comes to the truth about what actually happened to Rebecca. Hitchcock, unusually, felt that wartime audiences might have baulked at the true nature of Maxim’s character. In Wheatley’s version, as in the book, one is left with a bitter taste in one’s mouth at the end, rather than just the smell of the burning mansion. Nonetheless, though I quite enjoyed this new Rebecca I doubt whether I will ever watch it again. Whereas Hitchcock’s film I shall return to again and again, just as the narrator of the story cannot banish Manderley from her dreams.

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