New from Al and Linda Lerner on Movies and Shakers: Rebecca

Location. Location. Location. That’s the best part of this film starting with gorgeous settings on the French Riviera. But Director Ben Wheatley’s remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s classic film is a rather stiff and stilted version of Daphne Du Maurier’s romantic novel.

Writer Jane Goldman grabs a few lines from the original story, but doesn’t create the emotion, nor the disturbing and threatening atmosphere Lily James as the new Mrs. DeWinter is supposed to encounter.  

James plays plain enough as the never-called-by-her-first-name, assistant to Mrs. Van Hopper. Ann Dowd plays continuously condescending to perfection picking at her bland assistant to educate the sheltered young woman to the ways of the world. 

The love story of a young assistant to the rich who meets her prince charming on the French Riviera turns into a tense relationship after they marry. The new wife has to live in the shadow of the late, great Rebecca, whose reputation is as big as her Manderley mansion which is more a castle fit for an evil queen than a princess. It’s filled with frightening memories of the first Mrs. De Winter which are only enhanced by Mrs. Danvers (Kristin Scott Thomas) who is trying to keep the first wife’s buoyant reputation alive. 

When Mrs. Hopper and the assistant encounter the tall, blonde and handsome Mr. De Winter (Armie Hammer), they unexpectedly have lunch together on the posh hotel veranda where they are all staying. Hammer is a good actor and a handsome presence. But, at times, it looked as though he was just going through the motions. We’ve seen him exhibit more depth. 

Lily James is a little looser and fun playing naive being shown around the Côte d’Azur in Maxim’s expensive roadster as they get to know each other. Fast courtship and voilá, they get married. He rules the roost and she has become a willing follower, but there isn’t a whole lot of chemistry between the actors nor the characters. The bride awkwardly tries to adjust to her new life as Maxim plays cool to cold towards her and everybody. It becomes even more difficult as Mrs. Danvers repeatedly lets the new lady of the manor know she can’t possibly measure up to Rebecca. 

It gets especially weird when Danvers makes the new Mrs. DeWinter touch the sheer black neglige still laid out on Rebecca’s bed. Wheatley nimbuses this and other scenes with attitude suggesting that Danvers had romantic leanings toward Rebecca herself. Danvers is the keeper of the keys and a scary one at that, but Scott Thomas’ icy glare and stare are not as threatening as Judith Anderson’s in Hitchcock’s classic. In that version the stoic Lawrence Olivier was wooing the meek Joan Fontaine. Hitchcock’s original was my mom’s favorite and she would not have been happy with this remake. 

The cinematography of France and the Weatherly Mansion are magnificent. The costuming is well done, and quite stunning for the vast cast dressed up at the ball. But Maxim’s garish gold suit at the beginning of the film seemed out of place and not up to rich conservative attire for that time. This romantic novel won’t have you riveted to the screen to see what happens next, and the ending becomes an unlikely, outdated detective story. Sam Riley as Maxim’s longtime friend, Jack Favell, is good as a despicable buddy. But to the young Mrs. DeWinter, his sneer shows he’s got some kind of secret under his hat. 

The cinematography by Laurie Rose (Stanand Ollie) of France and the Manderley Mansion are magnificent. The costuming is well done, and quite stunning for the vast cast dressed up at the ball. But Maxim’s garish gold suit at the beginning of the film seemed out of place and not up to the upper crust, conservative attire for that time. This romantic novel won’t have you riveted to the screen to see what happens next, and the ending becomes an unlikely, outdated detective story. Sam Riley as Maxim’s longtime friend, Jack Favell, is good as a despicable buddy. But to the young Mrs. DeWinter, his sneer shows he’s got some kind of secret under his hat. 

If you miss travel and want to see magnificent surroundings in vivid color showing off the south of France and that mansion in England, this is for you. But if you want to see a riveting romance novel, visit Alfred Hitchcock’s version in black and white for a tense and chilling film experience. 

Netflix       2 hours 1 minute PG-13

The post Rebecca first appeared on Movies and Shakers.

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