In high school, my English teacher gave us a choice between 3 books to read and then write a report about it. One of the choices was Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, which is what I picked. The only reason why I selected it was because the other books, To Kill a Mockingbird and The Scarlet Letter, were already a little too commonplace. I already knew how they would turn out somehow but that’s probably because they are that popular. Rebecca, on the other hand, I have never heard of. It piqued my curiosity which is why I selected Rebecca.
Like most of my high school academics, I only have a vague notion about the book and the story. However, a lot of them went flooding back when I watched the Netflix Original Movie about Rebecca.
This will be a general SPOILER FREE review of the film. I know the book’s been out for decades and Alfred Hitchcock even got a Best Picture win at the Academy Awards for his film adaption of Rebecca. Even if the story is supposed to be well-known, I’m going to keep this as SPOILER FREE as possible since I didn’t even know the novel existed when I was in high school!
Rebecca takes place around the turn of the 20th century. We meet the soon- to-be Mrs. de Winter working as a servant. When her path crosses the extremely wealthy Maxim de Winter, the two fall in love and marry. The couple move into Maxim de Winter’s mansion, the Manderlay, where it seems like they’ll live happy ever after. Unfortunately, the shadow of Maxim’s dead wife, Rebecca, falls heavy on the new Mrs. de Winter as it seems like she was the perfect woman and she can’t hold a candle to her greatness.
Now, I can’t really reveal any more details than that little paragraph above as there is a whole lot of mystery surrounding Rebecca. What I can say it the film does feel rather weird as a whole as it transforms into several genres. At the start, it’s a romantic Cinderella story. It then transforms into a strange gothic tale surrounding Rebecca before finally transforming into some kind of a mystery thriller. None of them come off as cohesive as it should be but it does make it feel more dream-like as, while the tones don’t mesh well, the entire story does feel cohesive.
One of my biggest peeves I have with the film is actually an inherit problem of the original novel. The new Mrs. de Winter is never given a first name! I guess, when it was written, it was to facilitate the reader to put herself into the main protagonist’s shoes and picture themselves in her situation. That makes a lot of sense when you’re reading as it’s from a first-person perspective. However, in a medium such like a movie, it just feels uncomfortable and out of place because no one calls her by her first name! It’s fine when the servants like the head housekeeper of the Manderlay, Mrs. Danvers, calls her Mrs. de Winter as she’s supposed to be of lower social standing. It doesn’t make sense when Maxim, her freaking husband, never talks to her and use her first name! You can call this a nitpick but this just bugged me throughout the entire film. Netflix should’ve taken some liberties and given “Mrs. de Winter” a name.
Speaking of taking liberties with the story, this version of Rebecca does make a few changes to the original story. Nothing major mostly but they’re there. The overall beats are still intact but Netflix did give a more definite ending than what the novel originally had. I’m kind of torn as I did sort of like the original ambiguous ending of the book but, at the same time, I felt the writer of the novel, Daphne du Maurier, couldn’t figure out how to wrap things up in a neat little bow. The Netflix film does but it does come off as sloppily executed.
I would say the thing Netflix got right is the set design. Manderlay is described to be something to be extremely grand and they indeed chose a extremely glorious mansion to film most of it in. The opening romance scenes in the lavish hotel looked lovely. All the costumes and the cars looked exactly of the time period. This is probably where Netflix put a huge chunk of their budget into.
Unfortunately, the acting is just passable. I like Lily James’ look as she’s extremely pretty and, well, nice to look at. Even as a girl myself, I can’t help but be a little bit attracted to her! However, her acting performances never impressed me. There’s just a strange subduedness to all of her roles which never really feels real. She’s okay in general here but it never reaches the level of believability required for me to fully invest in the character.
Add to this is her lack of overall chemistry with Maxim de Winter, played by Armie Hammer. They just seemed mismatched, especially during the more romantic moments they’re supposed to have. His acting is fine when he has to play the charming playboy, but when he has to show anger or any other emotion, it never clicks. The best performance comes from Kristin Scott Thomas as headmistress Mrs. Danvers. Her acting here is played straight enough so you never really know what her motivations are until she wants them to be known, which is what was needed for the role and the story.
The story itself isn’t all that intriguing but what does pull you in is the central mystery of Rebecca as you never meet her. All you get are second-hand descriptions and testimonials of who she was and how perfect she was supposed to be. This did draw me into trying to find out more about her and see how true it was. Once it’s revealed, however, it’s easy to lose interest because the other characters just aren’t an intriguing as the enigma that’s supposed to be Rebecca, which is why the last third of the film fell flat for me.
All-in-all, I can’t really give a wholehearted recommendation on the Netflix adaptation of Rebecca. It’s beautifully shot and the sets are incredible. However, the acting leaves much to be desired and the disparate tones just doesn’t gel well together. It’s a movie I enjoyed because I read the novel and it brought back memories of my youth. Others who don’t have the nostalgia might want to skip this.
Have you seen the Netflix version of Rebecca? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments section below!