Poor characterisation and chemistry produce a mediocre reworking of du Maurier’s classic novel
Rebecca, based on the novel by Daphne du Maurier, has officially made its Netflix debut. Attempting to succeed the novel’s previous adaptation, made in 1941 by none other than Alfred Hitchcock, is no mean feat and in this case, whether or not director Ben Wheatley has met the standards set by its predecessor is debatable at the very least.
Rebecca, at first, seems like the classic retelling of a centuries-old trope, where the poor girl falls in love with the rich and indubitably handsome guy. He whisks her off her feet, and she can’t help but become enraptured. Eventually, something or someone licks their fingers and snuffs out the flame of romantic candlelight. In this case, this someone is the ghost of a dead wife that still haunts the echoed halls of their home.
However, we soon start to realize that this isn’t just another Hallmark movie to put on the books- the antagonists in the story aren’t merely antagonists, they are something much worse. Destructive in nature and completely hostile to the new Mrs de Winter, they make sure she lives in the long-shadow cast by the ex-wife Rebecca.
Although the film contains striking imagery, no amount of fire or darkness can cover up the confusing, disjointed, and disappointing aspects littered throughout the movie. Though Wheatley does a respectable job at conveying the gender and social class struggle that Daphne du Maurier presents so vividly in the literature, the progression of the film and the chemistry of two main characters is questionable at best and downright confusing at the very worst.
His attempt at emphasizing the relationship between the second Mrs de Winter and Maxim, ends up with the two actors, Lily James and Armie Hammer, emotionally and physically pawing at each other while the audience is awkwardly wincing and trying not to look directly head-on.
In the face of this awkward lack of chemistry, the chilling and unsettling feelings that any psychological thriller must sell to the audience is barely rescued by a respectable soundtrack and what is, to the film’s credit, some excellent cinematography. However, the skeleton of an outstanding film is usually built out of the bones of a good script and solid acting, both of which are noticeably lacking.
The most frustrating part of the entire film has to be, without a doubt, the end scene with Mrs Danvers, played by Kristin Scott Thomas.
Arguably the best acted character in the movie and the leading lady when it comes to eliciting the expected and exciting responses when watching a psychological thriller, she is ruined in the end in an attempt to humanize her to the audience.
This unfortunately paradoxical scene contains some of the film’s most striking lines driving perhaps the best character development, but also removes the mystery integral to a psychological thriller.
Rebecca is, in many ways, a movie that functions best without any context because having any would only cause you to criticize it endlessly. Du Maurier’s original novel surged past the generic to create a truly innovative and addictive thriller, however this film adaptation gets nowhere near. The most resounding part of it is the short sequence where the dominant patriarchal concept of society is turned upside down, which is a sad commentary on Wheatley’s directing and anyone else who was involved in the making of this film.
Perhaps if the urgency to convey a suspenseful tone hadn’t been so dependent on the use of modern technology and more on the development of plot and character, this convoluted film full of compelling discourse could have been something special.
Illustration by Eve Miller