Directed by Ben Wheatley | Released 2020 | Runtime 2h 1min
Wheatley’s Rebecca is a Romance/Mystery adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s novel of the same name, starring Lily James (Cinderella), Armie Hammer (Call Me by Your Name), and Kristin Scott Thomas (Four Weddings and a Funeral). The story centres on a young newlywed who arrives at her husband’s family estate on the English coast, but finds herself battling the shadow of his first wife.
You may have read the source material or watched the plot-line play out in Hitchcock’s 1940 adaptation, but Wheatley has made it evident that he was adapting the novel and not providing us with a remake of the film.
So, in this Netflix original, the most noticeable effort from the director is in his flavour for style. The glamorous and filtered location of Monte Carlo is picturesque, and will draw out a sense of escapism from viewers who have been enduring a worldwide pandemic; be it the wide shots of the overlooking views from the couple’s private and romantic spots, the sandy beaches which offer an effortless glossy sheen, or how our leading lady James’s hair blows in the wind as the couple drive along the French Rivera. On top of this, Rebecca dresses its characters in tribute to the 1930’s; Hammer dons a gold linen suit, James’ pairs co-ords and pearls, and Mrs. Danver’s dresses in a classic style with a masculine twist as they all glide through the opulent manner which itself is entrenched with plenty of character. Rebecca is stylish and suave, and this makes it a pleasure to watch purely because of how easy on the eye it is.
Though the novel is more of a gothic romantic horror, Wheatley steers clear of this in his adaptation. It’s not horrifying or as dark as you’d hope, and he instead uses the late wife trope to explore feelings of anxiety and insecurity (both in one’s self and within a relationship), as well as ideas of vengeance and manipulation. The melodramatic basis of this isn’t so bad, but the performances are disappointingly flat and the chemistry between the lovers feels non-existent, and so the film fails to offer its themes with much profundity. This is a surprising set back as James in particular has offered some great performances in her career, but in Rebecca, she tends to overact with exaggerated and raised stiff shoulders or her wounded composure as an overstressed damsel in distress. It’s more surprising then when she takes an unrealistic U-turn into her husband’s savvy personal detective and saviour.
As for Hammer, he fits into his part quite well but the performance is more nonchalant as opposed to invigorating. It’s Thomas who is most enticing in her role as Mrs. Danver; she has a tendency to float around the manor and pops up unexpectedly, often armed with a cold stare and sharp-tongue. For first timers to the famous story, Thomas aids in delivering its unpredictability and punchline with an eerily tranquil yet ferocious style.
All in all, Rebecca is a simple and attractive watch which is quite appealing to an audience of current escapists. Though, when it comes to gripping viewers, it’s unable to do so effectively. In fact, its lack of substance and mostly lethargic performances means that after a few days, it becomes quite forgettable.