Hitchcock’s, ‘Rebecca’ was his first American film after leaving the UK for Hollywood. The story of a newlywed arriving at her husband’s immense family estate on a windswept English coast could have been one of those fish out of water stories. How many times have we seen someone marrying well above themselves? You know, the sort of vacuous, dead eyed shop mannequin desperate to marry into money, even fame and start lording it over everyone and in that respect Meghan Markle would have been well cast in the role. Instead Rebecca is the late wife of Maxim De Winter (Armie Hammer) still mourning the death of his wife yet bizarrely trying to forget about her by holidaying in Monte Carlo in a hotel they so often used to frequent.
It’s here that Maxim meets the future Mrs DeWinter (Lily James), a servant of a snobby society lady Mrs Van Hopper (a great turn by Ann Dowd). It’s the beginning of a blossoming romance that quickly escalates into a proposal of marriage when he finds that the pair will be leaving the hotel the following day to return home to the UK.
This initial part of the film is beautifully photographed – all sun kissed beaches which are soon replace for the windswept coast of the UK where Maxim De Winter’s immense estate is manned with a huge number of staff (though there’s little hint as to how he affords all this) headed up by the icily cold Mrs Danvers (with Kristen Scott Thomas in the sort of role she excels at). For the new Mrs De Winter it all goes downhill right from the get go with Mrs Danvers bitchily telling her, ‘ I thought you had been a ladies maid’. It’s a relationship that only ever gets worse orchestrated by Mrs Danvers dedication to the late Mrs DeWinter who death it emerges is not all as it might seem. It’s this relationship between Danvers idolizing of the original lady of the house that is played up as a love interest far more than that in the original film and this is more likely to be that, back in 1940, it would never have passed by the censors.
Jane Goldman’s script always plays up that aspect of society where women are very much seen as secondary to the man of the house and Lily James as the new Mrs DeWinter is never identified with a first name – she is always Mrs de Winter, second fiddle to her husband. Danvers much like the ghost of the original Mrs DeWinter is a presence that hangs heavy and omnipresent in the vast mansion – always seemingly there , watching over the newlywed and it soon becomes a war of wills with Danvers becoming a frenemy and it all comes to a head at a society ball held at the house.
The 1940 original starred Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine directed by Hitchcock and all were at the top of their game with each being nominated for Oscars and the film rightly winning as Best Film so it’s a big ask to remake one of the directors classic films. Though Armie Hammer is always in the shadow of Olivier, Lily James is the one that shoulders the whole film and again pales in the shadow of Fontaine. Scott Thomas on the other hand handles the role with aplomb and is comparable with Judith Anderson’s sly version of Danvers. Directing is Ben Wheatley perhaps better known for his horror (Kill List, Sightseers) and it’s a interesting choice by the producers but there is a feeling that he has been slightly held back here as there’s little suspense yet it is lavishly shot. There are lesser Hitchcock films in the master of suspense’s back catalogue which could benefit greatly from being remade by directors with singular visions and whilst there’s nothing wrong with this latest adaptation, as with all remakes of classic films, there seems little need to do so.
Here’s the Rebecca trailer…….