Maybe it’s best if this is your first trip to Manderley?
With any version of Rebecca you will be haunted by Alfred Hitchcock’s 1940 Oscar-winning thriller. You can’t escape it. It lives as large as Rebecca herself, haunting the viewer with visions of a frightened Joan Fontaine and a menacing Judith Anderson. The sooner you come to terms that Ben Wheatley’s retelling isn’t trying to emulate Hitch, the better. This new vision of Daphne du Maurier’s classic includes a grounded performance from Lily James and crafts that will leave you gobsmacked.
If you met a mysterious Armie Hammer on a beach, you would swoon too, especially if you were stuck in a job looking after a woman who talked down to you at every turn. Ann Dowd, as Mrs. Van Hopper, isn’t shy about putting down James’ nameless character and reminding her that she has no family and no true prospects for marriage. After Hammer’s Maxim de Winter escorts away on several seaside dates (despite a mustard suit), he proposes to her to his famous manor, Manderley.
The new Mrs. de Winter (we have a name!) is obviously overwhelmed upon arriving at this haunted mansion, but things take a more sinister turn when she realizes that Maxim’s first wife, the titular title character, remains the object of obsession of everyone in the house. There are so many monogrammed R’s on everything, one might suspect that Manderley’s original design was in the shape of the letter itself. The presence of devoted housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers (Kristin Scott Thomas), doesn’t help matters much since she raised Rebecca since she was a young girl and she, ahem, clearly doesn’t think the new Mrs. de Winter can hold a candle to her predecessor. Hey, if Armie Hammer rescued you from a potentially miserable existence, you’d try to make it work. Dead wife or no dead wife.
James carries the weight of the film on her shoulders without allowing herself to crack. It’s very difficult to imply that this Mrs. de Winter is a plain Jane, but James keeps a lot of her feelings inward and succeeds in drifting under Rebecca’s wide shadow. Scott Thomas makes Mrs. Danvers her own. Judith Anderson glided around Manderley like a devoted specter, but Scott Thomas plays her as a wounded mother mourning the loss of her most beloved child.
Julian Day’s costuming is chic and stylish without drawing too much attention away from the tension going on in the house. He was criminally robbed of an Oscar nomination for last year’s Rocketman. As for Manderley herself, Sarah Greenwood creates a labyrinthine maze in her production design. The rooms loom over Jamess and Hammer and you know there are more spaces worthy to explore. Wouldn’t you want to take that tour?
No one is trying to replicate something we’ve seen before and the result is a Rebecca that stands on its own.
Rebecca is available now on Netflix.