The tragedy of the new adaptation of the classic English detective novel “Rebecca” by director Ben Wheatley and Netflix is that the new Rebecca will be compared to the film of the director, recognized as a classic during his lifetime, a film included in the golden fund of cinema 80 years ago, nominated for eleven ” Oscars ”and received two statuettes. Not the fairest competition.
Genre: Detective drama
Producer: Ben Wheatley
Cast: Lily James (second Mrs. de Winter), Armie Hammer (Maxime de Winter), Christine Scott Thomas (Mrs Danvers), Sam Riley (Jack Favell), Ann Dowd (Mrs. Van Hopper), Mark Lewis Jones (Inspector Welch) and others.
Studios: Working Title Films, Netflix
Year of issue: 2020
Until recently, director Ben Wheatley was not seen as particularly fond of English classics, gothic novels and detective stories. All of his work is criminal black comedy and horror films, and the pinnacle of his career is an ambiguous dystopia. High-Rise with Tom Hiddleston and Jeremy Irons; and the chamber crime black comedy Free Fire starring Cillian Murphy, Sharlto Copley, Armie Hammer and Brie Larson. To be honest, it is not at all clear why the adaptation of the novel, recognized as one of the best detective books of the 20th century, was entrusted to him.
Rebecca / “Rebecca” tells the story of a young girl who became the second wife of the aristocrat Maxim de Winter and came to his family estate, where everything is connected with the name of the deceased previous wife, Rebecca, who was loved by all servants and relatives. It is hard for a living girl to compete with an ideal deceased … However, these are not all the problems of young Mrs. de Winter.
The novel by the writer Daphne Du Maurier was published in Great Britain in August, and in the USA in September 1938, and sold so well that the publishing house in the USA reprinted additional copies ten times. The first circulation in Great Britain was quite good 60 thousand copies. Since then, the book has been reprinted literally every year and has been translated into all major languages of the world. Already in 1939 Daphne Du Maurier reworked the novel into a play, which was staged in London and withstood 350 screenings.
At the same time, in 1939, the rights to film the novel were bought by the small independent Hollywood studio Selznick International Pictures, created by David Selznick, whose father was a Kiev Jew who emigrated to the United States. During its short history, the studio has released several famous films. The first of them – the legendary Gone with the Wind / “Gone with the wind”, nominated in 1939 for thirteen (!) “Oscars” and collected eight (!) Statuettes. And the second … directed by 40-year-old Alfred Hitchcock Rebecca / “Rebecca”, released in 1940, and received only two of the eleven “Oscars” for which she was nominated. So David Selznick became the only person in Hollywood history to receive an Oscar for Best Picture two years in a row.
The film by Hitchcock, who had not yet managed to earn a reputation as a master of suspense, is also notable for its cast. The role of the second Mrs. de Winter (the heroine’s name is never named in the novel or in the film adaptation) in the 1940 film was played by the magnificent Joan Fontaine, who won her Oscar in 1942 for her role in another Hitchcock film, Suspicion / Suspicion “. But Laurence Olivier, who played Maxim de Winter, the greatest British actor of all time, received the gold statuette four times and was nominated for an Oscar as many as thirteen times.
“Rebecca” has been filmed five times in the form of a feature film, including, for example, in India, and more than a dozen times on TV. Despite the fact that Daphne Du Maurier herself was against writing a sequel to the novel, the book was “completed” three more times after the death of the writer with the permission of her heirs. Daphne Dumorier herself became famous for one of her short stories, which formed the basis for the film “Birds” by the same Hitchcock.
As you can imagine, Ben Wheatley, who didn’t really like the classics anyway, had an overwhelming task. Compete with Alfred Hitchcock, David Selznick, Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier? We sing a song to the madness of the brave!
And although Wheatley and Netflix have invited very good actors to the film adaptation, they are still far from the legendary stars of the 40s. Lily James, of course, is already used to acting in such sets, but she still lacks experience. Armie Hammer (by the way, did you know that he is the great-grandson of the legendary businessman Armand Hammer – friend of Lenin and sponsor of President Nixon?), Although he earned some deserved praise for his role in Call Me by Your Namelooks too tight. Yes, this is how it should be in the plot, but it is very difficult to reveal such a character, and Hammer rather failed than succeeded. Good in Kristin Scott Thomas, Whose Side Experience, BAFTA for Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994) and Laurence Olivier Award (what an irony!) For her role in “The Seagull”. But alas, her Mrs. Danvers (who in fact is the main character of “Rebecca”) was simply not allowed to reveal herself.
In general, Wheatley’s adaptation almost literally follows the text of Daphne Du Maurier’s novel and the 1940 film adaptation.The only difference from Hitchcock’s film adaptation, somewhat cut by self-censorship, is that the incident was replaced by murder, as it was originally in the novel, plus the place and method of another death was changed. But overall these are really small things, Rebecca (2020) does not add to what is shown in Rebecca (1940), nothing new. This is a neat copy, nothing more, a little more colorful, but still only a copy.
Moreover, in those moments when Wheatley tries to add suspense or elements of mysticism to the picture, he fails. “Rebecca” is a clean and rather simple detective story with elements of a romantic story, mysticism is simply superfluous here, all the more so crudely and ineptly inserted.
Rebecca (2020) is a beautiful expensive movie. There are gorgeous sets and costumes. The actors in the lead roles really try to tell us an interesting story, but the director doesn’t help them in any way. He is straightforward, boring and just copies a Hitchcock film. But in general, Rebecca even looks good, despite the protractedness of some episodes. The picture pleases the eye with the bright colors of the Cote d’Azur and the restrained, austere beauty of Cornwall. But the beautiful picture is completely empty.
If you haven’t seen the original 1940 or any other adaptations of Rebecca, the 2020 movie is a good place to explore the classics. Just do not be surprised if you find in it some similarities with other works, a book back in the 30s. last century accused of plagiarism.