A Lush Remake of ‘Rebecca’ Offers a Suspenseful Mind Game

Forrest Hartman

 

At a Glance

Rebecca

3½ stars

Starring: Lily James, Armie Hammer, Kristin Scott Thomas

Director: Ben Wheatley

Available on: Netflix

 

It is enticing to call director Ben Wheatley’s 2020 version of Rebecca a remake of the 1940 Alfred Hitchcock classic, but that would be overly simplistic. Like Hitchcock’s film, the new Rebecca is based on the 1938 Daphne Du Maurier novel, and a book that has seen several adaptations for stage and screen. 

 

Certainly, fans of the Hitchcock film should enjoy this 21st century take on the tale, which is as dark and intriguing today as it was in 1938. The action centers on the relationship between a young, naive woman (Lily James) who is swept off her feet by Maxim de Winter, a charismatic widower with a massive English estate called Manderley. The two impetuously marry, but life is not as the young Mrs. de Winter had dreamed.

 

 

Upon arrival at Manderley, it is immediately clear that the estate lives under a pall cast by the memory of Maxim’s dead wife, Rebecca. The new Mrs. de Winter tries desperately to ingratiate herself with the house staff, especially the stiff head housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers (Kristin Scott Thomas). Alas, her efforts mean nothing, because the ghost of Rebecca is everywhere, most importantly within the psyche of her new husband.

 

Obviously, this new version of Rebecca was timed for a Halloween release thanks to its gothic roots, but it isn’t really a horror film. Rather, this is a tale of psychological suspense asking viewers to consider the power of memory and the human capacity for psychological manipulation. This is a neo-noir that feels both modern and nostalgic. It is contemporary in the sense that James, Hammer, and Thomas are very much modern movie stars, and Wheatley knows how to frame a beautiful, 21st century image.

 

The scenery sparkles, and the cinematography has the luster of a Golden Age masterpiece. There are elements of the plot that feel dated, but not significantly enough to make the viewing experience unpleasant. And readers of the book will likely appreciate this film’s climax more than Hitchcock’s. This version of Rebecca is dynamic, beautiful, and haunting, just as it should be.

 

 

Author Bio:

 

Forrest Hartman, a Highbrow Magazine contributor, is a longtime entertainment journalist who teaches in the Department of Journalism & Public Relations at California State University, Chico.

 

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