Netflix and director Ben Wheatley’s “Rebecca” drags us along for a hurried, jolting adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s classic novel.
The novel, which explores the story of an unnamed young woman who marries Maxim de Winter – an older aristocrat who is haunted by the legacy of his late wife Rebecca – leaves big boots to fill. Doing justice to du Maurier’s lush descriptions, snappy dialogue, and busy plot is no easy feat. It is also a feat that Netflix half pulls off, half leaves unconvincing and jarring. With so many different aspects to balance in such a short time frame, arguably there is a need for prioritisation. Netflix, however, tries haphazardly to juggle all of these aspects; the result being that only a few hit the high mark set by the text.
The pace of the plot is perhaps the greatest casualty. Fabricated moments for the film, as well as a stagnant middle section, are given precedence over a beginning and ending which appears forcefully pushed through. The cumulative effect of this and poor dialogue means that there is not time to properly digest the novel’s emotional climaxes. Very little speech is taken directly from the text – quotes are often substituted for theatrical, overly-melodramatic versions of themselves with the aim of hurrying the plot along to its conclusion sooner. The first painful emergence of de Winter’s remorse is quickly glossed over, for instance, without time to realise the burgeoning significance it presents for his and the narrator’s relationship. Moreover, the pacing means that thematic issues surrounding age difference and class are equally smoothed over without the attention they deserve.
To the credit of Netflix, the film does well to evoke the glamorous and rugged backdrop of the text. Set predominantly at a stately home in Cornwall, the film handles the stark difference between lavish interior and untameable exterior well. Filmed in many stately homes around the UK, with outdoor shots in Devon and Surrey, the imagery is careful and precise. The dresses, food, and materiality of old wealth are vividly juxtaposed against the dramatic coast, great waves beating against it, which has “taken” Rebecca.
Armie Hammer and Lily James also do a convincing job. James nearly perfects the narrator’s wide-eyed naivety, whilst Hammer seems to have long since mastered the self-assured, silently tortured type we’ve all seen in Call Me By Your Name. Both are almost blown out the water, however, by Kristin Scott-Thomas, who plays the eerily poised and malicious Mrs Danvers with grace and almost uncanny imperceptibility.
Enjoyable enough for the acting and some immersion in the novel’s tantalizing, gorgeous world, Rebecca is still worth a watch if you can swallow any pedantry about plot and dialogue.
Image Credit: Empire