Ben Wheatley is an interesting director to say the least. His work, stylistically strong, spans broad genres and is often met with well-deserved critical acclaim. They aren’t usually targeted at a broader audience so it was surprising to find out his next project was Rebecca, a novel already famously adapted by Alfred Hitchcock (his first American film and only Best Picture win at the Oscars) and to be released on Netflix.
When Maxim de Winter (Armie Hammer) meets the naive travel companion to an older lady (Lily James’ character remains fittingly nameless) he falls madly in love and proposes to her to rescue her from a life of servitude. When she arrives at Manderley estate, her new home, she feels less than welcomed by Mrs. Danvers (Kristin Scott Thomas) and starts to feel the pressure of living up to Rebecca, Maxim’s previous wife whose death remains a mystery.
Yours truly hasn’t read the source material by Daphne du Maurier, nor have I seen Hitchcock’s adaptation. No comparisons can be made between how Wheatley and writer Jane Goldman handled the story and what the master of suspense did with it. It probably isn’t a shot for shot remake though because if one thing can be said about Wheatley’s Rebecca is that it looks absolutely stunning.
The set design is simply phenomenal. From the sun lit opening scenes in Monte Carlo to the darker, more gothic settings at the Manderley estate, everything looks lush and glamourous. You simply can’t fault this film on its look and how stylish everything is. But the emphasis on style does have its impact on everything else. Hammer, James and Scott Thomas look the part and definitely deliver all they can but there’s an emotional distance in this film that sometimes renders them to talking props, through no fault of their own.
The material is melodramatic and it doesn’t help that we’ve seen quite a few variations on the same story and themes that make this feel less fresh. However, it could’ve easily added up to something cheesy but thankfully Wheatly knows how to handle both the romance and the rising psychological dread in equal measure. It’s only in the final act that he loses the reins. When the remainder of the plot kicks in it’s handled as just that, like something to rush through towards the final credits.
Rebecca is a visually stunning film that works up enough brooding atmosphere to hold your attention for two hours even though the conclusion might leave you less than fulfilled.
Review by Stephen Dhondt
Netflix Review – ‘Rebecca’
Reviewed on Netflix, October 22, 2020. Rating: M. Running time: 121 min.
PRODUCTION: A Netflix release of a Netflix, Working Title Films production. Producers: Raphaël Benoliel, Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Nira Park. Executive producers: Amelia Granger, Sarah-Jane Robinson.
CREW: Director: Ben Wheatley. Screenplay: Jane Goldman, Joe Shrapnel, Anna Waterhouse (based on the novel by Daphne Du Maurier). Editing: Jonathan Amos. Cinematography: Laurie Rose. Score: Clint Mansell.
WITH: Lily James, Kristin Scott Thomas, Armie Hammer, Ann Dowd, Pippa Winslow, Lucy Russell, Tom Goodman-Hill, John Hollingworth, Sam Riley.