Review: Rebecca

I fell in love with Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca (1938) the first time I read it, which was a long time ago. It’s haunted me since. Kneehigh’s stage adaptation is one of my favourite plays, but there has yet to be a screen adaptation that has the same effect. When the trailer for the Netflix adaptation was released, I was excited, but my expectations were high. 

It’s safe to say that Lily James stuns as Mrs de Winter; her character is nameless. The story begins with her, not yet Mrs de Winter, working as a lady’s companion to the insufferable Mrs Van Hopper in Monte Carlo. Then enter Maxim de Winter (Armie Hammer). He’s the incredibly rich and incredibly handsome owner of the Manderley estate in Cornwall. He’s now alone, following the death of his wife... the titularly illusive Rebecca. 

The pair frolic around Monte Carlo in a montage of stunning scenes, (watching in isolation from miserable England will trigger intense envy) and fall from lust into love. They elope and Maxim takes his young bride home to become the lady of Manderley. It’s here that we meet the formidable housekeeper, Mrs Danvers. Kristin Scott Thomas is perfectly cast and gives the best performance of the bunch. She embarks on a dark and startling journey of manipulating the new Mrs de Winter into being haunted by the imagined ghost of Rebecca. She is constantly reminded that she’ll never live up to the first Mrs de Winter. 

Ben Wheatley’s direction draws on the aesthetic elements of du Maurier’s gothic, but it lacks the thrill and anxiety of the book. It’s tense, but not quite tense enough. However, it makes up for this with the seductive beauty of the cast. It’s an enchanting film, but not the psychological thriller you would expect. Rebecca’s presence is felt, but she doesn’t haunt the viewer. Mrs de Winter’s nightmares are more like whimpers than night terrors. You won’t be scared- for good or for bad. 

The story unravels especially slowly, but this is not that effective. Suspense doesn’t build, you just get a bit bored. We begin to learn more about the uncertainty surrounding Rebecca’s death, but the impact of it all is lost as the mystery is solved in the last 1o minutes. If not impactful, it’s still satisfying. Lily James plays her character’s weathered innocence beautifully- you do root for her. Scott-Thomas' Danvers is enigmatic though- it's hard not to be bewitched by her. 

It’s a great watch, and I do recommend it, but it didn’t quite live up to my expectations. Despite the dark lighting and dark set, the film isn’t scary or thrilling enough. But it's definitely the most beautiful film you’ll see for a while- you'll be sure to dream of Manderley, but it won’t be the nightmare it should be.

Review: 3/5