Rebecca movie cast: Armie Hammer, Lily James, Kristin Scott Thomas
Rebecca movie director: Ben Wheatley
Rebecca movie rating: One star
I’ve just finished watching Rebecca, the one in which Armie Hammer and Lily James play Mr and Mrs De Winter, and go to Manderley, just like they did in Daphne du Maurier’s 1935 novel, and Alfred Hitchcock’s 1940 film, of the same name. How I wish they hadn’t. This latest version in no way compares to either, making a mockery of one of the best gothic horror novels ever written. Not because it is ghastly; that would have been something, but because it leaves you completely cold, and unmoved.
With such rich, evocative source material, you would imagine that it would be the easiest thing to translate it on screen, and there’s no harm in dusting off classics to present them to the new generation of movie-goers. As you hear the Lily James character saying ‘Last night, I dreamt I went to Manderley again,’ you are prepared for the familiar goose-bumps with which you responded to the haunting opening line. But not once in the film, I’m sorry to say, do you even feel a frisson run down your shoulder-blades.
When you first come upon James, she is in a luxury resort in Monaco, dutiful companion to a horrid, overbearing dowager. Somehow the unassuming young woman manages to catch the eye of the dishy Maxim de Winter (Hammer), who lounges about on the sunny terrace, kitted out in a mustard suit. The two are swept up in a languorous romance, and before we know it, she is going home with him, to one of the stateliest mansions in Cornwall. Where she encounters the formidable Mrs Danvers (Thomas), lording over a phalanx of liveried staff, and over everything else that goes on, at Manderley.
Soon, the new Mrs de Winter (we never know her name, just as we didn’t in the novel), learns that in every shadowy nook of Manderley, there are memories of Rebecca, the first Mrs de Winter. Some tangible (porcelain figurines that Rebecca loved, scattered about her desk); some in the elements that visit in the new bride’s nightmares (a mysterious shadow that lurks in the corridors); and in the darkness that furrows her husband’s brow, as he resolutely refuses to talk about his first wife, and how she died.
The only thing that stands out is the atmosphere that the film manages to create occasionally. Even in this, the film is more engaging in its first few minutes in sunny South of France, rather than in the imposing bleakness of Manderley, which is where everything of import happens. James is adequate, but never able to channel the bone-chilling terror that suffused the novel, or even the B&W starkness of Hitchcock’s film, starring Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine. The clean-cut, handsome Hammer is all wrong for Maxim de Winter: when he tells the shy companion, ‘I want to marry you, you little fool,’ it sounds wrong. The only one who internalises the vibe of the period and is suitably menacing is Thomas, dressed in black, her mouth a slash of scarlet, but even she cannot rescue the film.
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