In Netflix’s Rebecca: Review
Oh, to dream of Manderley again (again). In a world that sees fit to restart Batman approximately every four years, the fact that Netflix’s new Rebecca, due Oct. 21, is only the second major big-screen adaptation — not counting several attempts for television and overseas — of Daphne du Maurier’s classic 1938 novel feels like a remarkable act of restraint.
Or maybe just wisdom, considering that the first belongs to Alfred Hitchcock, whose iconic 1940 film (the lone Best Picture Oscar winner of his career, no less) is still standing as the definitive take on Du Maurier’s gothic romance.
With or without that hallowed history, it’s hard not to feel the lack of something in director Ben Wheatley’s lush, ponderous update — the most obvious thing, perhaps, being Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine as the wealthy, grief-stricken widower Maxim de Winter and the humble young ladies’ maid who will be bringing him back to life.
Here British actress Lily James, her blond hair is girlishly bobbed,which brings her own strain of Fontaine’s fierce, contained sweetness; Armie Hammer, it can be said at least, wears a suit vest very well. The couple meet in Monte Carlo, where James
is accompanied by a shrill socialite (The Handmaid’s Tale’s Ann Dowd, having a ball) in the same grand hotel where Hammer’s De Winter is spending a lonely holiday. A run-in in the dining room leads to a longer conversation, and soon enough, a full blown fairy tale: long drives along dreamy French coastlines, stolen kisses, tender notes scrawled on hotel stationary.
It is not helping to know, that the duo also reduce Maxim’s character to a sort of brooding, well-mannered mute, his charm discarded at the gates of Manderley. Both Hammer and Sam Riley (as the mustachioed love rival Jack Favell) are seemed hazily miscast, though the movie’s more serious crime may lay in offering up the promise of the great Thomas and then giving her so little to do in the end, beyond a few outrageous scenes. What’s left then feels a little like the “superficial froth” of du Maurier’s Monte Carlo: a whirl of pretty faces and dazzling scenery, and beneath that, not much to hold on to.