You’re better off seeing the Alfred Hitchcock version.
Before I dished on the new film version of Daphne du Maurirer’s novel “Rebecca,” I had to see the 1940 one directed by Alfred Hitchcock. It featured electrifying performances from Joan Fontaine as the new Mrs. de Winter, Laurence Olivier as her husband Maximillian de Winter, owner of the Manderley home in England, Judith Anderson as their housekeeper Mrs. Danvers, and George Sanders as the first Mrs. de Winter’s first cousin. The story involves how the aristocratic widower and young woman met, and how the young lass deals with the spirit of Rebecca, the first Mrs. de Winter.. That was a 4-star rated movie version of the story, because of how Hitchcock adapts the novel with thrills and chills, and how the characters merge into the literature.
Now, we have the new version on Netflix, directed by Ben Wheatley (“Free Fire”), which stars Lily James as the new Mrs. de Winter, Armie Hammer as Maximillian de Winter or Maxim for short, and Kristen Scott Thomas as Mrs. Danvers. This is a mixed bag for me, because the performances from James and Thomas are all fine, while the movie fails to stand on its own. In fact, for those of you who’ve seen the Hitchcock movie and read the book, you basically know how it goes down.
The story is still set in the 1940s. The young woman was the assistant of the snobby Mrs. Van Hooper (Ann Dowd), until she meets and falls in love with Maxim at the French Riviera. They marry and reside in the Manderely home, where she learns about how Rebecca drowned. Mrs. Danvers tells the young woman Rebecca was the love of Maxim’s life and how she provided joy in her life. Every time, the young woman reminds Maxim about Rebecca, including a party scene when she dresses up like her, he throws a hissy fit. That’s when Mrs. Danvers deceives her by informing her she’ll never amount to anything. And when the authorities find Rebecca’s carcass, that’s when Maxim reveals to his new wife about how much he loathed Rebecca.
James does a good job (not Joan Fontaine perfect) at playing a newb adjusting the the high life, as well as the history of the original Mrs. de Winters, while Thomas is just as electrifying as Judith Anderson was as the housekeeper with her tone and consistency. Hammer is usually a charming actor, but he seems too American to play Maxim, and Laurence Olivier was tremendous in the role. And out of all the supporting actors in the film, Sam Riley lacks the pure magic George Sanders offered as Rebecca’s first cousin Jack Favell, who appears out of the blue to meet the new Mrs. de Winter, and Dowd is too generic as Mrs. Van Hooper.
The new film version of “Rebecca” captures the chills of the original version and book, but it seems too obvious and dull to enjoy. Hitchcock knew how to adapt novels into films, whereas Wheatley makes it look and feel all glamorous and standard. You have to do more than bring the novel to film. You have to delve deep inside, and really get into the literature. Both these versions run for 2 hours, but this one feels all too fast, and while I commend the leading ladies for committing to their characters, I still can’t recommend the whole movie. And reminder, the 1940 “Rebecca” gets 4 stars, while this one gets 2 and a half.
Streaming on Netflix