Too bad this revised adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s novel is so inferior to Alfred Hitchock’s Oscar-winning 1940 version (the only Hitchcock movie ever to win Best Picture), starring Joan Fontaine, Laurence Olivier and Judith Anderson.
It begins with: “Last night, I dreamt I went to Manderley again…”
Flashback to 1938 in Monte Carlo, where a naïve, impressionable young woman (Lily James), paid traveling companion to social-climbing Mrs. Van Hopper (Ann Dowd), meets aristocratic Maxim de Winter (Armie Hammer), a widower, ostensibly still grieving after the loss of his wife Rebecca six months earlier.
A whirlwind romance ensues on the French Riviera, culminating in marriage. After the honeymoon, Maxim takes his new Mrs. De Winter ‘home’ to the Cornish coast of England, introducing her to his sprawling, ancestral estate called Manderley, where a battery of servants awaits their arrival.
But there’s only a frosty welcome from Manderley’s imperious housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers (Kristen Scott-Thomas), who makes it abundantly clear that this new, subservient Mrs. de Winter pales in comparison with her glamorous, upper-crust predecessor Rebecca.
As the plot unfolds, it’s a chronicle of the many ways in which the haughty, condescending housekeeper menaces mousy Mrs. de Winter as sinister secrets are gradually revealed – until, predictably, a showdown ensues.
Insipidly scripted by June Goldman with Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse, it’s blandly directed by Ben Wheatley (“Free Fire,” “High Rise”), who reduces what was once a suspenseful, psychological thriller into an unevenly paced melodrama.
And while there was always a subtle lesbian subtext to Daphne du Maurier’s description of deranged Mrs. Danvers’ relationship with Rebecca, Wheatley makes it far more obvious.
On the plus side, it’s beautifully photographed by Laurie Rose, who makes the most of the spectacular seaside scenery, stylish period costumes, and historic Hatfield House, former home to Queen Elizabeth I – the same mansion that director Yorgos Lanthimos featured in The Favorite (2018).
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, this “Rebecca” is a flimsy, flat, forgettable 4 – an 80 year-old classic that should not have been remade.