Rebecca movie review: A bland revisit to Manderly
Ben Wheatley's reimagination of Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca as a coming-of-age story of the nameless protagonist misses out on the novel's essence
Ben Wheatley’s Rebecca, the newest adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s 1938 novel, finds itself in much the same predicament as the story's unnamed protagonist. Just as the heroine (Lily James) gets constantly compared to her husband Maxim de Winter’s late wife Rebecca, the film will inevitably be compared to Alfred Hitchcock’s 1940 adaptation of Maurier’s novel. It would, however, be unfair to make Hitchcock’s version the yardstick to measure the latest adaptation as Ben’s reading of the story is significantly different from that of the master of suspense. But, even if we unshackle the new film from this unfair burden, Rebecca (2020) still fails to completely justify its existence.
Director: Ben Wheately
Cast: Lily James, Armie Hammer, Kristin Scott Thomas
Rebecca is the story of a young lady who gets into an impulsive marriage with the rich and high-born widower Maxim de Winter. He takes her to his family mansion Manderly, where the new bride is constantly reminded of de Winter’s late wife Rebecca. Despite being dead, Rebecca seems to cause havoc in the life of the newlyweds. While the story is generally perceived to be a psychological thriller, Ben has tried to turn Maurier’s ambiguous novel into a glossy coming-of-age story of a demure damsel in distress.
There is an attempt to provide some agency to the unnamed protagonist here, yet it feels contrived. So too does the reimagining of the characters of Mrs Denver and Rebecca’s cousin Jack Favell. It is clear that the director doesn’t want the two characters to just be one-dimensional ‘baddies’. As a result, we see Favell be this grieving lover mourning the death of Rebecca. However, these changes come across as mere afterthoughts that add nothing to the narrative or the outcome.
The film painfully goes all over the place towards the end. Suddenly, you find Mark Lewis as Inspector Welch and his exaggerated performance is out of place and uncalled for. The whole investigation sequence feels like it's from another film. But the biggest blunder of all here is how the director has reduced the mysterious and complex Rebecca to just a means for the protagonist to find her courage and snap out of her naivety. The film, thus, loses its true essence and end ups being a half-baked thriller that is neither here nor there.