Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again…Daphne Du Maurier, Rebecca
Let me preface this by saying that I love Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca. I did, however, read it a while ago, so my memory of it isn’t going to be too detailed. I obviously still remember enough to write about it, but I won’t really be talking about how accurate the adaptation is in terms of the finer points. Quite aside from my memory, I think there’s far more to adaptations than being totally loyal and accurate to the source material. I personally would much rather the adaptation capture the themes and aesthetic and tone of the original than stick rigidly to fine details that may not translate well across mediums. So, tone, theme, and aesthetic are all things I look for when considering whether I like an adaptation as an adaptation. Something could be a brilliant film, and terrible adaptation.
Title: Rebecca (2020)
Available on: Netflix UK
Adapted from: Rebecca — Daphne Du Maurier
Unfortunately, I’m not convinced that the new Rebecca released by Netflix is either a good film or a good adaptation. This is not to say it’s a bad film, because I did find it enjoyable, but I don’t feel like it really worked. The book itself is known for being gothic, and the film was just too… glossy, in the way many prestige TV shows are. It lacked the grittiness and darkness of the original. While the script and the actors were hitting the mark in terms of the gothic aspect, the aesthetic didn’t match up. The disparity here, between tone and aesthetic, was what put me off the whole film. It was just quite a jarring experience. Even the scenes that are visually darker still seemed too glossy and perfectly set up to feel truly ominous or foreboding.
If the aesthetic mismatch can be set aside, the rest of the film wasn’t bad. The casting director did a great job, though I did imagine there to be a bigger age gap between Maxim and the second Mrs DeWinter (Lily James is 31 and Armie Hammer 34, in the book, she is in her early 20s, he in his early 40s). Kristen Scott Thomas did a great job of the imposing Mrs. Danvers, and the scene between her and Mrs. DeWinter where Mrs. DeWinter breaks down was one of the standout scenes of the movie for me. Armie Hammer and Lily James are both reasonably established names, though it was the first time seeing an Armie Hammer movie for me. I enjoyed his performance as Maxim, and I think his face really suits the 1930s aesthetic (maybe a weird comment, but some people just have the right kind of face for certain periods, you know?).
The tone of the book was something I thought the script did manage to capture. Rebecca, the title character and the (deceased) first Mrs. DeWinter, haunts the narrative. At Manderley, the new Mrs. DeWinter is unable to escape the shadow of her predecessor. She is constantly compared to her, and belittled by those who were enchanted by the front Rebecca had put on. At the hands of Mrs. Danver and Rebecca’s other devotees, the new Mrs. DeWinter is convinced that Maxim will never love her, and that she will never be fit to run Manderley as its mistress. This self-doubt is pervasive throughout the film, only falling apart towards the end of the film when Maxim finally reveals the truth: he was one of the few people at Manderley who was not taken in by Rebecca’s charms. After Maxim confesses to hating Rebecca, Mrs. DeWinter starts to really come into her own as a character, where previously she had been rather shy and submissive.
This was the first film of Ben Wheatley’s I’ve seen and I have to admit that I was disappointed. The tonal juxtaposition was something I wouldn’t expect from a filmmaker who is so celebrated, especially in the thriller and horror genres. I would like to watch more of his films, particularly A Field in England, to see what all the fuss is about, because I really don’t think this is his finest work. I am now really interested in watching the 1940 adaptation of Rebecca by Hitchcock, to see how that compares. The general consensus is that the Hitchcock adaptation is a superb piece of film, whereas the Wheatley has not been met with such acclaim. Overall, I was a bit disappointed by this film, though aspects of it redeemed it, and made it at the very least enjoyable to watch. I wouldn’t recommend this to any diehard fans of Du Maurier, though. Du Maurier described Rebecca as “macabre”. This glossy, high-end Netflix adaptation is anything but.