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Thursday, October 15, 2020

[Review] Ben Wheatley’s ‘Rebecca’ Attempts More Faithful Adaptation That Favors Dark Psychological Mystery

Daphne du Maurier’s bestselling Gothic novel Rebecca remains popular, even over 80 years since its initial publication. That means the literary classic inspired a slew of adaptations, the most well-known being Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca, the only feature of his ever to win a Best Film Oscar. But as critically acclaimed as Hitchcock’s film was, it was subjected to Hays Code censorship, forcing changes to the darker aspects of the story. Ben Wheatley‘s Rebecca isn’t a remake, but a more faithful adaptation of du Maurier’s novel bearing his imprint on the psychological mystery.

Rebecca starts as a meet-cute in Monte Carlo, where a timid young woman (Lily James), working as the personal assistant to Mrs. Van Hopper (Ann Dowd), encounters and falls in love with Maxim de Winter (Armie Hammer). Just as Hopper threatens to rip the woman away from Maxim, he proposes marriage. The young woman assumes Mrs. de Winter’s title and is whisked away to her husband’s coastal estate. Marrying far above her station and learning to run a household would be enough stress to deal with, but the new Mrs. de Winter also must contend with the hold Maxim’s previous wife, Rebecca, still has over the household. Found dead only less than a year ago, Rebecca’s legacy haunts the manor as well as Maxim’s new marriage.

Wheatley’s vision is a sprawling period tale running just over two hours. It’s also less a Gothic interpretation and more a darkly psychological one as the slow-build mystery of who Rebecca was and what happened to her unfurls. There are hidden rooms and many secrets within the walls of Manderley. Still, the focus is always on James’ character and her psychological torment at the hands of icy housekeeper Mrs. Danvers (Kristin Scott Thomas) and her husband’s temperamental behavior. The more she tries to acclimate to this world, the more isolated she becomes. A few nightmare sequences tease a Gothic aesthetic but mostly feel shoehorned in and without purpose.

James is a more than capable lead, quickly drawing audience sympathy as the shy woman desperate to please and failing. She’s engaging, though stuck playing one-note for most of the duration. It’s only near the end that she finally finds more assertive footing, and not always plausibly. Once at Manderley, Maxim is less present in the story for the middle act. His aloofness helps propel the mystery, but it’s also beneficial in that Hammer isn’t quite as convincing in his role. The whirlwind romance means that the new Mrs. de Winter doesn’t know her husband very well, but the lack of chemistry on Hammer’s end makes it difficult to understand why this character would endure as much as she does for him. The coldness at least works in Hammer’s favor later, but this is meant to be a haunting romance tale first and foremost.

The production design is impeccable, contributing significantly to relaying the scope of the story. The opulence of it, from the palatial Manderley to the sunken ship along the coast, imbues valuable visual interest in a story where much of the action doesn’t happen on screen.

It’s easy to see why Rebecca’s retained interest for decades, and why Wheatley (Kill ListA Field in England) wanted to tell it in his voice. Rebecca never appears on the screen, yet her presence profoundly affects the characters and their actions. Manderley is a deeply haunted house, but not in the conventional sense. That means that those expecting more straightforward horror will likely wind up bored. Thanks to James’ sympathetic and vulnerable performance, the psychological proves the most successful element of this slickly produced adaptation. As a Gothic romance with satisfying character work, well, at least there’s plenty of other adaptations to choose from. Still, Rebecca works well enough, especially for those completely unfamiliar with du Maurier’s novel.

Rebecca releases on Netflix on October 21, 2020.



source https://bloody-disgusting.com/reviews/3636799/review-ben-wheatleys-rebecca-attempts-faithful-adaptation-favors-dark-psychological-mystery/

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