Directed by Ben Wheatley.
Starring Lily James, Armie Hammer, Keeley Hawes, Kristin Scott Thomas, Sam Riley, Anna Dowd and Bill Paterson.
Manderley is the ancestral country seat of Maxim de Winter (Armie Hammer). Shrouded in secrets, rife with scandal and cloaked in tragedy it sits precariously overlooking a ravaged coast line. It is here that Maxim brings his new bride (Lily James) after a whirlwind romance in Monte Carlo and she encounters Mrs Danvers (Kristin Scott Thomas), a spinster who holds court over this stately pile in her role as housekeeper watching over new comers with interest.
Penned in part by Jane Goldman this adaptation of Rebecca is sumptuous, sinister and as horrifically gothic as you could hope for. Featuring Lily James, Armie Hammer and Kristin Scott Thomas, it is a story of jealousy, betrayal and deception classically constructed. Manderley Manor is overbearing, isolating and creepy without going down the Crimson Peak path. Meandering corridors, ancestral paintings and age old décor add to its lifeless quality.
If love existed in this house it has long since gone and Mrs Danvers is tending to a mausoleum of memories. Director Ben Wheatley splits his film into two distinct parts depicting sun kissed opulence and dour downcast reality respectively. Maxim de Winter in the hands of Armie Hammer is a brooding mass of contradictions, who is part European playboy and equal parts grieving widower. Those sunnier elements are reminiscent of Anthony Minghella’s The Talented Mr.Ripley, in there depiction of stylish understatement and wide eyed wonder.
Lily James is every inch the timid ingénue both penniless and pretty yet beguiling. Her courtship with Maxim de Winter is all sun dappled drives, beachside picnics and carefully penned missives of an intimate nature. High society gossip, transatlantic discussions and declarations of an amorous intent define this first hour before we are introduced to Manderley. From there the winds chance, a blatant manipulation begins and Mrs Danvers starts to dominate.
There is a pinched quality to Kristin Scott Thomas here which showcases a performance defined by minimalism. Her distain from the first moment Maxim brings home his bride is apparent, while it is clear how much influence she loses to this usurper. Cunning, coy and subtly demeaning her Mrs. Danvers undermines through comparison, dethrones in word and deed and then offers false fealty. Elsewhere Ben Wheatley employs visual metaphors alongside darker dream sequences, as Mrs. Danvers gets her claws more firmly into the new Mrs. de Winter. Marionette puppets and optical illusions of perpetually imprisoned birds are all prevalent, whilst we watch this new bride bend to her will.
Cliff top confrontations, literal sleepwalking and overt differences in décor mix the modern, gothic and traditional making Manderley as unpredictable as its occupants. Country balls, paper lanterns and ostentatious displays of wealth sit in opposition to the emotional vacuum which this country estate has become. As we reach the final forty minutes Ben Wheatley must do away with the mysterious, jettison the more ambiguous and fall back on formula.
Scandalous relationship revelations see this picture perfect adaptation turn into a series of genre tropes which feel slightly jarring. Armie Hammer somehow fails to convince as the belittled husband, while Lily James grows more backbone more quickly than anything might have indicated earlier on. Only Mrs. Danvers has a dignified end choosing her own exit melodramatic to the last. Much of your opinion on Rebecca will depend upon your loyalty to Alfred Hitchcock. His version is still hailed as the benchmark for this book even though any similarities between that version and this are subjective. If Ben Wheatley’s Rebecca shows us anything it demonstrates his versatility, visionary flair and ability to do a period piece without breaking sweat.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★ ★ ★