'Rebecca' Review: Netflix adaptation feels like derailed 'Downton Abbey' as all subtleties are chucked out
Daphne du Maurier's gothic novel 'Rebecca' was a marvel for innumerable reasons. It had an unnamed, nervous and inexperienced protagonist who finds her quiet and rather unentertaining life thrown into a flux of drama and suspicion, when she marries the quiet and distant Maxim de Winter. He is widowed as his wife, Rebecca, the seeming embodiment of perfection, had died just a few months ago. Rebecca's chilling presence looms like a dark cloud over the protagonist's life, and the insecurities begin to seep into her vein like poison. Rebecca was beautiful, charming and known for her repertoire of wit. She was loved by all — or so we are made to believe.
The new Mrs de Winter finds herself tackling shadows in the house of Manderley, as well as the sinister housekeeper Mrs Danvers, who had looked after Rebecca ever since she was a child. The over-arching themes of creeping self-doubt and frayed relationships made the novel the classic it is today, and Alfred Hitchcock turned those themes into a dark and gritty psychological thriller, with fabulous performances by Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine.
With such overpowering themes, it's a wonder how Netflix's new adaptation turned out to be so... for the lack of a better word, soulless? For the lovers of the novel, it is near sacrilege to see Maxim de Winter (Armier Hammer) losing his cool with his young wife riding with distasteful Jack Favell (Sam Riley) — something that doesn't happen in the book by the way. He accuses her of almost having an affair by saying "Parading your nightclothes for him?" The most painful part was watching the Manderley Ball, one of the most tension-ridden scenes in the book, where the protagonist dresses as Rebecca without knowing it. The Netflix Maxim throws aside his cold and distant behaviour and craftily whispers into her ear, "I should never have brought you here." No. No.
But these are the grouses of the book lover. Trying to keep this aside, the film as a whole hasn't been able to convey the tensions of the story, and would rather give in to theatrics to emphasise the point. Subtleties are flung out of the window. It is entertaining for sure — for those who haven't read the novel or even watched the earlier adaptation. Yet, even they might find it rather hashed and comical at times, and feel the film is bereft of any sort of complexity. It feels like an episode of 'Downton Abbey' derailed. The story is almost the same, the new Mrs de Winter battles the memories of Rebecca and slowly uncovers the ugly truth behind the almost-divine woman. The ending is stretched to a breaking point, and the random death is so unecessary that you just want to break your head with one of the expensive teacups in the film.
Lily James as the protagonist does her best to work with the part, and she does a good job. Armie Hammer fails at the scenes where he needed to be at his best. Kristin Scott Thomas as the sinister Mrs Danvers is worth writing home about for sure, and perhaps the saving grace of the film — but a little too overdramatic at points.
'Rebecca' is entertaining and a one-time watch for those who don't wish to delve into the original source. For the book lovers who come looking for some hope and wish to find Laurence Oliver again, it's excruciatingly painful.