Ben Wheatley’s remake of REBECCA, the Oscar-winning Best Picture from 1940 directed by Alfred Hitchcock, deserves to be judged on its own merits. Starring Lily James and Armie Hammer, REBECCA is based on the classic 1938 gothic novel by Daphne du Maurier.
The film opens in Monte Carlo --- what’s not to love --- where James’ unnamed character is a companion to an older, wealthy woman, Mrs. Van Hopper (Ann Dowd), who treats her like chattel. She inadvertently meets the even wealthier --- and very handsome --- Maxim de Winter (Hammer) and the two begin a platonic friendship. Maxim is recovering after the sudden death of his well-known socialite wife, Rebecca.
After a couple of weeks filled with long drives through the lush landscapes of Monaco and days sunning at the beach for the two new friends, Mrs. Van Hopper announces her sudden departure for America. Shocked by the news, Maxim proposes, and they marry immediately. After an extended honeymoon through Europe, the newlyweds travel to Manderley, the majestic estate in England belonging for hundreds of years to the de Winter family.
It becomes painfully apparent to the new Mrs. de Winter that the staff, especially the house manager, Mrs. Danvers (Kristin Scott Thomas), finds her no match for the deceased lady of the manor. She was adored and revered --- everything in her wing of the manse remains as it was under the scrutiny of Mrs. Danvers. And as the police begin to suspect Maxim in the suspicious demise of the first Mrs. de Winter, it falls to Maxim’s bride to solve the mystery of her death.
I am so perturbed by all the negative comparisons this version is receiving to the original. It’s been 80 years for crying out loud, and how many young moviegoers have seen that film, or even care to? James is quite capable of carrying this adaptation and I found her performance to be immensely satisfying. Her transformation from a shy, lonely handmaid to lady of the house is well conceived and believable.
The chemistry between Hammer and James is sweet and special, even though Maxim becomes quite moody and brooding once he is back home at Manderley. I kept wondering why he didn’t do more to make his new wife more comfortable --- and welcome --- but one must remember that it is 1930s England. Men don’t emote enough now, yet alone back in that time period.
Scott Thomas is a perfect choice for the icy nemesis capable of anything to keep her former mistress’ spirit alive in Manderley forever. She’s incredibly unnerving --- and, at times --- very close to being a tad over the top. It’s a juicy role and you can see that Scott Thomas relishes the opportunity to play such a formidable character.
We’re still in a pandemic, people. All the naysayers out there who don’t like this movie --- pish tosh. To spend two hours reveling in the glamor of Monte Carlo, the vastness of Manderley --- all the while surrounded by gorgeous costumes, Maxim’s fabulous car and the breathtaking vistas --- works for me.
Opinion: Mild See It Now!
REBECCA is an unusual film in that we never get to see the title character, except in a painting. She is the dead wife of Maxim de Winter (Armie Hammer) and the curse of Maxim’s new wife Mrs. de Winter (Lily James) who was not allotted a first name by the source writer Daphne du Maurier. Rebecca was also the former ward of Mrs. Danvers (Kristin Scott Thomas) who is house manager at Max’s ostentatious manor home called Manderley with its large servant staff.
REBECCA is also a remake of the original Alfred Hitchcock thriller from 80 years ago that was named Best Picture, won another Oscar and was nominated in nine additional categories. I don’t see this version of REBECCA garnering similar accolades --- not even close --- although I confess to not having seen the Hitchcock film.
One could say that director Ben Wheatley is no Hitchcock but that would be grossly unfair to Mr. Wheatley. He has had a number of well-received movies, though, including HIGH RISE (2015), which incidentally neither Jeanne nor I liked at all.
As for the 2020 REBECCA, it is sufficiently diverting given the lead actors. Lily James is a visual delight --- loved her in the last MAMA MIA film. And Hammer has an undeniable screen presence. Here his suave Maxim de Winter persistently pursues his future wife with lunch and dinner invitations at a hotel in Monaco where James’ character is the traveling companion tending to the elderly and obnoxious Mrs. Van Hopper (Ann Dowd). And Lily looks positively enthralled in her role which requires her to drive Max’s classic convertible.
Although REBECCA is billed as a gothic thriller, it has scenes that are more uncomfortable rather than suspenseful. When Mrs. de Winter throws a big soiree at Manderley, she hopes to surprise her husband by wearing a dress akin to the one on display in a painting on a prominent wall of the home. Unfortunately, Mrs. de Winter is not aware that it is Rebecca on the wall, as Mrs. Danvers told her it was Maxim’s favorite aunt. But we know it is Rebecca in the painting. With so much foreshadowing, it’s a cringe-inducing moment as we await Maxim’s reaction.
The rest of the story revolves around who is actually responsible for her death --- or was it suicide? Maxim is a suspect as is Jack Favell (Sam Riley), Rebecca’s cousin and former lover. The ensuing inquiry is intriguing, although it fails to keep us on the edge of our seat.
The chemistry between James and Hammer is solid, the costumes and set design are sumptuous, but REBECCA has little in the way of what anyone might call electrifying aspects of Rebecca’s death. One of the more entertaining aspects of the film is the performance of Scott Thomas. She is decidedly an evil person and clearly resents the presence of the second Mrs. de Winter. Their caustic interactions are the primary reason to tune in.
Opinion: Wait for VOD