There’s a certain amount of hubris involved in the making of a new version of Rebecca. Not only is it a new take on the novel by Daphne Du Maurier, it’s obviously also a remake of the classic Alfred Hitchock film. Plus, there’s the little matter of it being a Best Picture winning title. So, your new movie has all of that baggage. It must have a strong new reason for its existence, right? Well, in the case of this Rebecca, the answer is mostly a shrug. There’s not a ton wrong with this flick, but it’s a shadow of the Hitchcock work, ultimately leaving you to wonder why this got made in the first place. Coming this week to Netflix, it’ll be a passive viewing option for some, but again…the original is still right there.
Rebecca is a product of filmmaker Ben Wheatley‘s unique skillset, which did give this one a fighting chance. Unfortunately, the film just has an air of being unnecessary attached to it. The original is superior in every way, which is an albatross around the remake’s neck. If you’re totally unfamiliar with other versions, this isn’t bad, but with a better incarnation right there for the taking, it’s impossible to recommend.
The film again follows the same plot as the book and original movie. A young woman (Lily James) is in Monte Carlo when she comes across the handsome widower Maxim de Winter (Armie Hammer). A speedy yet intense romance ensues, with Maxim taking her as his wife in short order, making her the next Mrs. de Winter. After the honeymoon, the couple decamps for Manderley, Maxim’s huge family estate, located on a picturesque yet somewhat secluded English coast.
Once at Manderlay, Mrs. de Winter does her best to adjust, but it’s not easy, especially in the shadow of Rebecca, Maxim’s stunning first wife. Somewhat naive and part of a whole new way of life, she finds herself quickly unsettled by by Manderley’s housekeeper Mrs. Danvers (Kristin Scott Thomas). Not only is she a sinister seeming figure, Mrs. Danvers is single-handedly keeping the legacy of Rebecca alive. What follows next, best left discovered by audiences not familiar with the events of previous incarnations of the tale, threatens everyone’s lives and sanity.
The duo of Armie Hammer and Lily James are fair enough here, but they don’t really generate any sparks. They pale in comparison to Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier, which isn’t their fault, but still contributes to the overall feeling of lacking that permeates so much of this product. Hammer and James are acceptably solid, while supporting players like Ann Dowd, Sam Riley both leave little impression. Keeley Hawes and especially Kristin Scott Thomas do their best to add a little color here, but the house itself ends up with more personality overall.
Ben Wheatley’s direction does attempt to find new life in this old story, but he comes up short. He never generates sparks from his cast, nor does he engage you much in the story. Some of that is certainly due to the limp screenplay by Jane Goldman, Joe Shrapnel, and Anna Waterhouse, but Wheatley deserves some blame too. The visuals are handled well (more on that below), but the emotional quotient is basically nonexistent here.
Rebecca admittedly looks great. The visuals on the whole are striking, with on point costumes, as well as set design. Manderlay has a distinctive look, more so than anything else here, too. At the same time, when you’re admiring technical work like that here, as opposed to the plot or romance, you know something has gone somewhat off the rails.
Having a home on Netflix may ultimately be a boon to Rebecca, in the long run. Passively watched as a random streaming choice isn’t going to hurt this one, at all. Anyone who loves the Hitchcock original is likely to end up disappointed, but mostly just confused. In the end, it’s still hard to tell why this was created in the first place. Alas.