Frothy and easy on the eyes, Rebecca is fun even when it falters
Film by Jorge Ignacio Castillo
At first sight, British filmmaker Ben Wheatley seems all wrong to adapt Daphne Du Maurier’s 1938 Gothic best-seller Rebecca. Better known for his edgy thrillers (Free Fire, Kill List) and pitch black sense of humour (Sightseers), Wheatley appears too rough around the edges to bring to life a novel that Alfred Hitchcock turned into a classic.
Turns out Wheatley is just at ease with a classy, star-studded affair as he is with down-and-dirty independent filmmaking. That’s not to say Rebecca is without flaws, but for a good two-thirds, it’s a delight.
Du Maurier’s novel has been adapted and ripped off dozens of times, so you’re probably familiar with the plot: a comely lady-in-waiting (Lily James) is swept off her feet by the recently widowed (red flag!) aristocrat Maxim de Winter (Armie Hammer). Following a quick wedding (red flag!), the young bride finds herself adrift in Manderley, the large family estate, where she’s surrounded by people who worshiped the first Mrs. de Winter. She also grows increasingly suspicious of her husband, who shuts down every time the name of his first wife — the titular Rebecca — comes up (red flag!).
Wheatley and scriptwriter Jane Goldman (Kingsman) exploit the less visited corners of Du Maurier’s story, like the class disparity that helps alienate the new Mrs. De Winter (she’s treated like property by her husband) and the complexities of her foil, the housekeeper Mrs. Danvers. Unlike most versions of the character, Kristin Scott Thomas gives Danvers a modicum of warmth. She’s wicked, but Wheatley and Goldman seem to appreciate her deviousness.
Rebecca falls apart the moment the mystery surrounding the demise of the first Mrs. de Winter takes precedence over the battle of wills between Danvers and the new lady of the house. There is a payoff, however, in watching Maxim get knocked down a peg or ten, and seeing his new wife lose her innocence but gain in character.