The tale of the second Mrs. de Winter metaphorically haunted by her predecessor has its most famous adaptation in the 1940 Alfred Hitchcock film, his only film to win Best Picture. A 1997 television adaptation earned the late Dame Diana Rigg an Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries/Movie Emmy Award. Now Netflix has decided to challenge The Master of Suspense with its own version of Rebecca. Apart from one good leading performance, this Rebecca has nothing to offer other than a thin sheen of elegance.
A young but poor lady's companion is swept into a whirlwind romance to the mysterious Maxim de Winter (Armie Hammer). She soon becomes the second Mrs. de Winter (Lily James) and goes to his palatial estate, Manderley.
Manderley is run by the shadowy Mrs. Danvers (Kristin Scott Thomas), but the second Mrs. de Winter fears that she will never earn Maxim's love, let alone escape the shadow of his first wife, Rebecca. However, things are not as they appear, and perhaps far from being the great love of his life, Rebecca was a villainness, one who can still ruin their lives from beyond the grave. What exactly are the secrets Rebecca took to the grave, ones that involve her cousin/lover Jack Favell (Sam Riley)? Will Maxim and the second Mrs. de Winter find happiness despite the malevolent forces of the dead Rebecca and the live Mrs. Danvers?
It surprises me that three people adapted Du Maurier's novel, two of them women (Jane Goldman, Anna Waterhouse and Joe Shrapnel) given that there isn't a drop of romance within it. This isn't to say that women can write only about romance or that men can't, but that with three people they couldn't bring Du Maurier's novel come to life.
Instead, they and director Ben Wheatley made certain parts play almost like parody. There's a scene where the de Winter granny comes to tea, and in her confusion about who this woman is (as she's certainly not Rebecca) it played like a joke more than a drama, let alone a romance. The entire scene was funny, not serious. Moreover, there was no real buildup to it, let alone to who Beatrice (Keely Hawes) and Giles (John Hollingworth) are. There was more drama when Robert, a poor servant, was about to be charged with theft than there was with anything involving Maxim and his Missus.
The height of hilarity is with Ben (Ben Crompton), the strange man living in the boathouse. One wonders what he's doing there, popping up and spouting dire warnings with nary a rhyme or reason.
Rebecca also has mostly miss acting. To be fair Lily James may not score a homerun but she does manage a respectable triple as the second Mrs. de Winter, mostly convincing that she is this mousy figure who slowly grows to a strong woman. Mostly, for at times she doesn't appear to be genuinely frightened by anything, let alone Mrs. Danvers. Worse, at the end the last glimpse of the second Mrs. de Winter comes across as almost demonic, as if she become the new Rebecca.
Armie Hammer is a very handsome man and has the obligatory shirtless scene at the end, but he is as British as a baguette, and as intimidating as one. If he was meant to be British Hammer failed miserably, sounding very much like an American. Moreover, Hammer never seemed to change his expression, one of perpetual anger (perhaps after realizing what movie he was stuck in). He never came across as brooding or lost, but merely short-tempered and quickly irritated, making one wonder why any woman would want to be with him besides of his looks.
Also, what was the deal with his bright yellow suit? It just looks strange.
Scott Thomas did what she could with Mrs. Danvers, but she never came across as the antagonist to the second Mrs. de Winter or as one obsessed with the first Mrs. de Winter. She instead looked more obnoxious than menacing. Riley too did what he could with Jack, and to his credit did better than most save James, his Jack not as dull as most everyone else.
Rebecca is a snooze-fest, one where you soon start not caring about these people. It was a bad choice for Clint Mansell's score to start as so spooky, for it seemed to suggest a horror film versus a Gothic romance. Apart from James there isn't much here that would make anyone want to go back to Manderley again.