in ,



‘…a lush, watchable but empty film that misses out on the class conflict, creepiness and drama…’

Netflix have a somewhat hit and miss reputation when it comes to their prestige projects; on paper, a return to Manderlay and Daphne du Maurier’s classic 1938 novel seems like a good idea. For a start, there’s Kristin Scott Thomas as Mrs Danvers, one of those straight-off-the-bat casting ideas that’s a perfect fit. Two strong leads in Armie Hammer and Lily James, lavish production values and a newish voice in director Ben Wheatley; what could go wrong?

As often seems to be the case, the messy script is the problem here; 1938 novels need a bit of updating, and this new version struggles to get a grip of familiar tropes. Having the second Mrs De Winter (James) acting like a female Nancy Drew, breaking into a doctor’s office to search for clues doesn’t square with her timid character, who suddenly switches between a naïve ingénue and a seasoned pro who can clearly see what the coppers cannot. She’s initially presented as putty in the hands of Maxim (Hammer) when they meet in sunny Monte Carlo, or maybe she’s just revolted by his yellow suit, but soon she reverts to a schoolgirl when he marries her and takes her back to Manderlay, his stately pile where Mrs Danvers rules the roost.

On the basis of his work here, Wheatley is moving onwards and downwards by helming shark-stew sequel The Meg 2, and that gives you some idea where his career is going. After two memorable films, (Down Terrace, Kill List), he’d built up a cult reputation, but I can’t say I see much merit in Sightseers, A Field in England, Free Fire or High Rise; he seems to have run out of ideas straight out of the box. Aside from a couple of pastoral songs on the soundtrack, there’s no evidence of any real directorial stamp here, and the result is bland, bloodless and lacks any real flavour. Rebecca’s courtship has none of the brutishness required on Maxim’s part, and the scene where Rebecca confronts Mrs Danvers in front of the staff is completely off-message. And sure, Rebecca’s investigation gives her agency, but the evidence that she uncovers is what the authorities would have found almost immediately; the new version of Rebecca doesn’t solve Hitchcock’s continuing conundrum; why don’t they just go to the police? And the cliff-top ending is horribly botched, and somehow too melodramatic even for 1938.

A real creative like Anthony Minghella can take Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr Ripley and continue the story for a good half-hour after the book’s plot has gone, and we never see the join. The tiny changes to the plot here stand-out immediately, and derail the narrative. It’s a lush, watchable but empty film that misses out on the class conflict, creepiness and drama. There’s a German stage-musical that tells the story of Danvers, and that might have been a more interesting direction to go; this Rebecca feels like a confused recollection of a dream rather than a skilled retelling. This new, bland Rebecca might entertain a few during lockdown, but a good film it is assuredly not.


Leave a Reply
  1. Completely agree with your assessment. I’ve been longing for a modern remake of “Rebecca” for years – I love Hitch’s classic, but I thought that a modern take (without the restrictions of the production code) could be great. More sex, and making Maxim have a more active role in Rebecca’s death vs. accident. Sadly, this just doesn’t deliver. And I agree the “Nancy Drew” segment set my teeth on edge. As did the Danvers death. I’m not convinced that Hitch’s masterpiece should be left alone.

    • I really love the book, and like you, thought there was great potential; I get that a teenager today might find the old black and white version a bit starchy. But somehow this adaptation is more old-fashioned, more into clothes and cars and somehow misses out on the Gothic feel. I was sure they’d up the passion and the shocks, but it pales beside Hitchcock’s version IMHO. Glad to hear I’m not alone!

    • Agreed. It’s supposedly a thriller, but there’s no attempt to make the scenes pop; looking good should not be a film’s primary motive, but the storytelling is pretty shonky here…

  2. I think my parents saw this one last week, and weren’t too positive about it either. Including your own review, so far I have read mostly that this as you say is an empty film. Wasn’t planning on watching this one anyway, so nice to see it confirmed here. Which of course means more time for me to iron, play condorman and all other kinds of stuff🤔🤔😂

  3. “Original movies” like this are why I’m ok with not paying for multiple streaming services. Of course, about 9/10th’s of what amazon produces I don’t watch either, so I guess that isn’t saying much against netflix at all 🙂

    • I guess we just pick what looks good, but I’d say no one streaming service offers enough to make it essential. And there’s not much original about a scene by scene Hitchcock adaptation…

  4. I think I’ll stick to Hitch’s 1940 version. This version doesn’t sound too appealing.

    A point of interest: Daphne du Maurier was married to Lt. Gen. Frederick “Boy” Browning, the “Father of the British Airborne” and the on-scene tactical commander (as the OIC of I British Airborne Corps) of Operation Market-Garden. Browning died in 1965 at Menabily, the estate owned by the Rashleigh family that was once leased by du Maurier and was the inspiration for Manderlay.

  5. That’s a shame. I had some hopes for this. Not sure about James and Hammer yet, or Wheatley for that matter (I liked High Rise but that’s it). Hammer just seems like a really good looking guy.

    • I really thought Wheatley was finally going to come good on his early promise, but this reminded me more of Michael Winner’s The Big Sleep than anything good. And Hammer in a mustard suit would have you adjusting the contrast on your tv…

Leave a Reply