The new “Rebecca” movie was better than I expected

Netflix finally courts a considerate film adaptation

Shannon Garrett, Staff Writer

On Oct. 21, the new film adaptation of “Rebecca” by Daphne du Maurier was released on Netflix. It was directed by Ben Wheatley and stars Lily James, Armie Hammer and Kristin Scott Thomas. Rebecca is about a young woman (played by Lily James) who works as a lady’s companion to an American woman living in Monte Carlo. She meets an older man who has been a widower for about a year: Maxim de Winter (played by Armie Hammer), who owns the estate known as Manderley. After a whirlwind courtship, the unnamed narrator and Maxim get married, and they go back to Manderley. There, they meet Mrs. Danvers (played by Kristin Scott Thomas), the head housekeeper who seems to dislike the new Mrs. de Winter. The late Mrs. de Winter’s first name was Rebecca, and her presence still lingers in the house. Over the course of the book and the movie, the new Mrs. de Winter tries to find out more about Rebecca and her relationship with Maxim. 

I was pleasantly surprised by this adaptation as it met and in certain areas even exceeded my expectations. The movie managed to keep the gothic atmosphere and suspense of the novel for the whole 2 hours and 3 minutes while never feeling overdone. When I heard Lily James speak that iconic first line of the novel, “Last night I went to Manderley again,” I knew this was an adaptation I had to see. Throughout the movie, the costuming was a visual treat, while perhaps not always being the most period-accurate. This did not take away from the film; these gorgeous, for the most part, costumes were enhanced by beautiful locations and good cinematography. The soundtrack is very nice and not overbearing, and the movie includes some really good foreshadowing of what is to come through some rather creepy dream sequences.

Despite how much I enjoyed this movie, I found some elements that did not work for me. There is one bad costume, which was Maxim de Winter’s mustard yellow suit in the beginning of the movie that just looked awful. In general, Maxim de Winter was the worst part of the movie; he was just so dull and expressionless. Maxim is meant to be an older man, but Armie Hammer and Lily James are about the same age, so the whole relationship between the two of them feels a little off. On the other hand, I did appreciate that Maxim and our protagonist have more interactions while in Monte Carlo, which really establishes why they would want to get married. His best moment was when he was telling Mrs. de Winter about the night Rebecca died, where he showed genuine emotion. Another character that was portrayed not as I would have liked was Mrs. Van Hopper, the American woman our protagonist worked for. Mrs. Van Hopper is an over the top woman in all situations, and the movie makes her be a little more serious. It’s a little thing, but it is a sign that the characters will be slightly different in this adaptation, sometimes for the better, but sometimes for the worst. 

Lily James was delightful in her role as the new Mrs. de Winter and her onscreen interactions with Kristin Scott Thomas, who also gives a masterful performance, are brilliant. The audience can really feel how much Rebecca meant to Mrs. Danvers, and why she could never like the new Mrs. de Winter. The minor characters all stand out and feel well-rounded. Maxim’s sister Beatrice is played by Keeley Hawes, and she was an absolute treat to see onscreen. They even had Maxim’s grandmother in the movie, and all of the other adaptations I’ve seen never have her in them, so it was quite refreshing. When I saw Jack Favell, Rebecca’s cousin and lover, onscreen for the first time, I looked forward to the rest of his scenes. He’s someone who is just as petty and cruel as Rebecca, and the actor, Sam Riley, portrays this well. 

This adaptation of Du Marier’s book has many elements in it that I appreciate and added a few character interactions that would help the audience understand the characters. The costumes, locations, etc. were all well done and looked amazing. The cast was, for the most part, outstanding in their roles, despite the poor casting choice of Armie Hammer for Maxim de Winter and the characterization of Mrs. Van Hopper. While this may not be the most faithful adaptation, it is still one worth seeing, if only once.

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