Hello, my name is Amy, and I have a confession to make. Despite the cinephile that I profess to be, I have never seen Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca. It’s a cinematic sin for which I have always been meaning to atone, but for one reason or another, it has still yet to happen. I have, however, read Daphne du Maurier’s original 1938 novel, and here’s another confession, I don’t love it like so many others seem to. All in all, I’m perhaps not the ideal candidate to be diving into Netflix’s newest remake, but here we go!
For those who don’t know, Rebecca tells the story of an unnamed young woman (Lily James) who hastily marries the wealthy Maxim de Winter (Armie Hammer) and moves to luxury estate Manderley, where she is haunted by the constant reminder and looming memory of his recently deceased wife Rebecca. Antagonised by housekeeper and Rebecca devotee Mrs. Danvers (Kristin Scott Thomas), the new Mrs. de Winter’s life becomes a dizzying process of gaslighting and egg shell walking until a number of startling discoveries are made.
I said above that I’m not the biggest fan of the novel in the first place, but hilariously, this 2020 version of Rebecca manages to sanitise and dull pretty much everything that is impressive about du Maurier’s original text. The delicious gothic tension and suspense that the book possesses is almost completely absent, and I’m not joking when I say that at times this remake feels more like a tacky Lifetime romance than an edgy dramatic mystery. The lasting memory I have of my time reading Rebecca is that of thorniness and constant unease, and vast stretches of Rebecca 2020 are just straight up boring.
On a purely visual level, the film is certainly very pretty to look at. From sepia tinted verandas in Monte Carlo to grandiose British mansions to sweeping seaside landscapes, the aesthetic of Rebecca is sumptuous, but nothing about the execution of the actual story can match up to its cinematography.
I’m trying to avoid spoilers even though most people are familiar with Rebecca to some extent, but regardless of details I’m just generally baffled by how bland this particular telling of such events has turned out to be. All of this before a change to the traditional ending that absolutely boggles the mind. With the exception of a slightly scaled back but still very acerbic Mrs. Danvers, all of the sharp edges of this narrative have been removed, and it is massively detrimental.
Unfortunately, neither Lily James nor Armie Hammer do much to save the film. As the new Mrs. De Winter, James certainly looks the part, initially naive with a hint of steel emerging in time, but there isn’t anything sparkling or standout about her performance. If I’m being honest, I haven’t really enjoyed the actress since 2017’s Darkest Hour, and even then I wasn’t blown away.
As Maxim de Winter, I’m sorry to say that Armie Hammer is simply dreadful. He might be pretty to look at, but there is very little else going on here, and the character is in need of so much more than a handsome face. The chemistry between the two leads is close to zero, proof that two beautiful people doesn’t automatically look good together. Admittedly there is supposed to be something a little ‘off’ about the connection between Mr. and Mrs. de Winter, but Lily James and Armie Hammer just ain’t it.
One of the few interesting things about Rebecca in general for me is the character of Mrs. Danvers, and mercifully that continues to be the case here. Kristin Scott Thomas doesn’t do anything particularly exceptional in the role, but Mrs. Danvers is a complex cog in the plot wheel that is always going to provide dramatic intrigue no matter how hard filmmakers try to ruin the story. The film becomes instantly more interesting whenever Scott Thomas is involved, to the extent that I found myself switching off between scenes, just waiting for her to come back.
Overall, I think you can safely surmise that I was left very disappointed by this new attempt at Rebecca. The film looks sumptuous in every frame, but the underneath the cinematography everything just feels incredibly flat. A classic case of all style, no substance for me, with some seriously underwhelming central performances and tweaks to the story that don’t strengthen it all, but rather remove some of its bite and intensity. Kristin Scott Thomas is worth a watch as Mrs. Danvers, but the rest is not worth it. Not worth it at all.