On Saturday I watched the Hitchcock adaption of Rebecca (here’s my book review) on YouTube then watched the Wheatley version on Netflix. If you like the story, I would recommend both adaptions simply because.
Warning: Spoilers ahead.
I rarely do movies older than the 1970s. When I lived in Raleigh, I went to the Rialto’s once a month movie club called Cinema, Inc., which consisted of a lot of great older movies. I saw a number of them there on the big screen as well as the North Carolina Museum of Art‘s Movies on the Lawn night (I miss Raleigh). Otherwise, I just don’t bother.
The Hitchcock adaption canters on the harsh side of melodramatic and the score so annoying it sounds like a full orchestra ensemble chases them everywhere—you can hardly hear the dialogue. (I warned you I don’t watch older movies.) Everyone seems a bit too peppy and the camera work is—well, it’s there. Judith Anderson is great as Mrs. Danvers. As for the adaption, I bristled at the continued overall justification of Rebecca’s murder, which was coincidentally changed to an accidental death in this version. Apparently, the studio didn’t want their hero, Laurence Olivier, painted in such an ugly light—imagine that. The hard work implemented to make Maxim de Winter the white male savior figure instead of the murderer he was in this adaption epitomizes that nasty ‘P’ word and everything wrong in the world. The ending was changed to reflect more rescuer from Olivier and romance between the two leads, which was, again, annoying as fuck. Overall, I would recommend it for pure patriarchal film history alone so you can get as annoyed as I was.
As for Wheatley’s adaption, I loved the locations, cinematography, art and production design, costumes, sound, special effects, etc. The score was pleasant, nuanced and not that jarring. The cast wasn’t bad. This is the first time I watched Lily James and Armie Hammer act and they did well enough. They both are certainly nice to look at. James, at one point, rolling around crying on the floor was eye-rollingly a bit much. I mean, yeah, I would fall to Kristin Scott Thomas’ feet too just cuz, but if James thought she was gonna out-act Thomas, she’s as naïve as her character. I give her a hardy ‘you go, girl’ for effort.
This adaption was penned by two women and one man so, there is that, at least. This version differed and veered towards a more stronger woman angle, which was so much better than Hitchcock’s white male savior adaption. They added empathy between James and Thomas’ characters, which was lacking, I thought, in du Maurier’s narrative—I liked that a lot. It also leaned heavily on James’ ability and lead by adding more assertiveness and decisive actions to her character. This perturbed me and, I felt, betrayed the source material as it was ultimately in the end at the cost of Mrs. Danvers.
Many people categorize Rebecca as a Gothic Romance when I read it more as a feminist and queer psychological thriller. In the Wheatley version, there was an inordinate amount of grace and romance; it was…nice but a bit much. It got kinda dull in the middle—the ball scenes excessive. Hammer was far too charming and where Fontaine went overboard with being too obsequious towards Max, James—she did fine enough but missed the mark at not being fawning enough; I wouldn’t give her any awards. Kristin Scott Thomas plays Mrs. Danvers and, as usual, outperforms everyone.
It’s the adaptation of the source material that I have a problem with. While Ann Dowd was perfectly fine, Mrs. Van Hopper was far too cruel. That they made Mrs. Danvers duplicitous1 betrays the source even more; and while that surprise ending was beautifully shot and played, it overall didn’t do Mrs. Danvers justice, who, I felt, was the hero of the story with her metaphorical burning of the patriarchy. James hated on Rebecca a bit too much and lacked the fascination that du Maurier’s new Mrs. de Winter had with her. I read du Maurier’s narrative as the new Mrs. de Winter was as enamored by Rebecca as everyone else was and had a little crush on her (not as much as Mrs. Danvers crushed on Rebecca) as well as being jealous of her; she wanted to be like Rebecca and Max, asshole that he was, kept dismissing it and her experimental and evolutionary playacting, attempting to groom her into something he wanted and she wasn’t. In the end, she became a product of the generational patriarchal abuse and trauma that all women must adapt to self-preserve. That ending was spot on in which Hammer comes up behind her embracing her neck in a passionate kiss while she voiceovers staring into the camera that she chose love though and is ironic given it looks like he’s going to choke her and break her neck simultaneously. Yes, to choose that kinda love is to split the line between violence and passion. *shrugs* Perhaps that’s her thing now and where her confidence originates. I suppose we all must get our thrills where we can. It’s too bad it’s at the cost of other women.
- Mrs. de Winters confronts and fires Mrs. Danvers. Mrs. Danvers laments with her faux apologies attempting to explain her loyalty to Rebecca in which the naïve new Mrs. de Winters befriends her and they become besties until the ball. While that was a valiant attempt, it fell flat. Mrs. Danvers was consistently loyal to Rebecca and I cannot recall her ever wavering in that regard in the reading of the source.
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