Books being adapted into movies is a common practice and book lovers always prefer the former narration of a story. Having said that, the model is mostly a success. But in case of Ben Wheatley’s reinvention of Rebecca, the comparison is not alone with Daphne du Maurier’s classic novel by the same name but also Alfred Hitchcock’s adaptation that was made in 1940 and won him an Oscar.
Divided mainly in three acts, the first part revolves around a young girl, played by Lily James, whose name is never mentioned in the movie. She is travelling as a lady’s companion for a dreadful, arrogant employer who, with her friends, mocks her. In a sun-kissed Monte Carlo, she catches the eye of wealthy widower Maxim de Winter (Armie Hammer) and there begins a fairytale romance. Within a week, they get married and next thing we know she arrives at his family estate Manderley.
Here begins the second act and there’s a shift in cinematography and background music. It is dark and somewhat dry but surely opulent. The costumes and interiors of the mansion reflect a contemporary touch to the period drama, and while that lends beauty to the ongoing proceedings, but the battle of new Mrs de Winter with her predecessor Rebecca, whose legacy lives on in the house much after her death, is insipid. As she fights the shadow of Maxim’s first wife, cruel housekeeper Mrs Danvers (Kristin Scott Thomas) further complicates the situation since she cannot accept anyone else taking her place. This fills the current Mrs de Winter’s heart with fear that Maxim still loves Rebecca. There is pressure to fill in Rebecca’s large shoes, to be loved by her husband and biggest of them all- deal with the formidable Mrs Danvers who is hell bent on destroying her self-esteem. Again comes a twist and begins the third act, the weakest one. Mrs de Winter gets to know of Maxim’s secret that brings them close, fills her with confidence and all of a sudden her naivety is replaced by an enterprising nature. In the end, the two are together, away from Manderley. The end is abrupt.
The only believable performance is of Kristin Scott Thomas who is loathsome and terrifying, living up to her character at all times. In this story about toxic relationships, class and the burden that comes with it, nothing really touches you. Except for cinematography and costumes, nothing makes an impact, not even performances by Armie Hammer and Lily James.