What a week. First the History Channel fail to realise they’ve cast a Nazi in their woodworking show, then Netflix accidentally make a film that Alfred Hitchcock already did back in 1940. How embarrassing.
Netflix interrupt their busy schedule of racist B movies and marijuana cookery shows to adapt Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, swapping Hitchcock’s gothic monochrome for glossy colour and poor attention to period detail. Putting the third Mrs. de Winter (Lily James) in trousers is presumably meant to modernise the character, and without 1940s censorship we can get closer to the darkness of the novel. Why then does this remake feel so lightweight?
Put it down to a general lack of suspense, in both Jane Goldman’s repetitious script and Ben Wheatley’s flat execution. Re-becca is a departure for the otherwise interesting filmmaker, whose only personal touch appears to be the incongruous addition of folk music. Even if Netflix didn’t let him do a bizarro horror version of Rebecca, he could have brought some gothic flavour. Maybe a shadow or two. Like Maxim de Winter he appears to be sleepwalking here.
Maxim is played without edge by Armie Hammer, while Kristin Scott Thomas is passable (if a little too glam) as Mrs. Danvers. But these characters were perfected in the original, which leaves these fine actors doing pale imitations. Even Mrs. Van Hopper (Ann Dowd) has been unceremoniously declawed. It quickly becomes apparent that a story whose revelations come exclusively in the form of conversation requires a genius like Hitchcock to bring the intrigue.
At the risk of sounding like Mrs. Danvers, the first Rebecca was a masterpiece. It’s rehashed in broad, clumsy strokes without going far enough to be camp. If going to Manderley again is a dream, it’s one of those boring ones where you wake up all irritated.