The Stream: The mystery is pretty weak and takes a while to become interesting.
The Big Screen: Gorgeous production design and shadowy shots amp up the tension.
The Final Bill: Rebecca is not a taut thriller, but a campy diversion to keep you occupied for a bit.–
Director: Ben Wheatley
Writers: Jane Goldman, Joe Shrapnel, and Anna Waterhouse
Stars: Lily James, Armie Hammer, and Kristin Scott Thomas
Genre: Drama, Mystery, Romance
Runtime: 2 hours
This week Netflix released a remake of an Alfred Hitchcock classic, Rebecca, that stars Lily James and Armie Hammer as the main couple at the center of the story. The film is based on a novel by Daphne du Maurier that has been on high school reading lists for decades though I’ve never read it or seen the Hitchcock version. I didn’t know exactly what I was getting into, but I expected thrills, maybe a ghost and a tense mystery. Here’s what I actually got.
The basic premise of Rebecca is that a rich guy, Maxim de Winter (Hammer), falls for a young lady’s companion (James) while on vacation and their swooning romance becomes an impulsive commitment. Maxim is a widower still troubled by his wife, Rebecca’s death; but, he brings the new Mrs. de Winter to his estate, Maderley, where the specter of Rebecca lingers and clings to the shady housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers (Thomas). Hijinks ensue.
Supposedly, there’s a mystery surrounding the circumstances of Rebecca’s death. We hear whispers, but get no real details. Mrs. Danvers acts very strangely and disapproving of the new Mrs. de Winter, but the sneering portrayal while good doesn’t really enhance the material. Both Lily James and Kristin Scott Thomas fill their roles admirably. James plays the doe-eyed rube well. She reminds me of the charm she had from her days in Downton Abbey. Thomas gets to be icy and almost menacing. Her obsession with Rebecca is palpable, but it is not really clear why she is so stuck on her – it feels just like a power trip. Hammer just fills the role of window dressing – any actor could have played that part. He and Lily James do look good together and have some good moments, but she gets the credit for selling the romance aspect of this film.
The look of Rebecca is really well done though. Manderley is a stunning estate inside and out. It has that English stateliness of a Downton Abbey, but it also is creepy – too big to be cozy and so many rooms. There are shots that are on cliffs that are beautiful and scary at once. The sprawl of all that is going on fills the screen so wonderfully. They really spent their money well on that aspect. If the plot were as interesting as the craft of the film, then this would be a real winner.
Ultimately, Rebecca is a passable film for 2 hours. It is not entirely engrossing, but it isn’t boring either. It takes a while to get to the point and for the mystery to develop, but even then, it feels like an afterthought. On a gloomy autumn evening, you could do worse with a handful of popcorn than watch Rebecca. Give it a try.