Rebecca (2020)

Director: Ben Wheatley
Writer: Jane Goldman, Joe Shrapnel, Anna Waterhouse
Based on: Daphne du Maurier’s novel
Cast: Lily James, Armie Hammer, Kristin Scott Thomas, Ann Dowd, Tom Goodman-Hill, John Hollingworth, Keeley Hawes, Sam Riley, Bill Paterson
Seen on: 20.2.2021

Working as a companion to Mrs van Hopper (Ann Dowd) has brought the unnamed protagonist (Lily James) to Monte Carlo where Mrs van Hopper spies Maxim de Winter (Armie Hammer), whose somewhat tragic story precedes him: he is a widower and lives at the grand estate of Manderley, now all alone. When Mrs van Hopper falls ill, the protagonist and Maxim de Winter start to spend more time with each other and finally he asks her to marry him. But living in Manderley, where the shadow of Maxim’s deceased wife Rebecca hangs over everything and her housekeeper Mrs Danvers (Kristin Scott Thomas) makes sure it doesn’t leave, proves quite a challenge for them.

Rebecca is an okay adaptation of a really excellent novel. That squandered potential leaves a film that is decidedly meh, but very pretty.

The film poster showing Maxim (Armie Hammer) looking into the distance as he holds the protagonist's (Lily James) face. She is looking up at him.

I was arguing with myself about whether I actually wanted to watch the film, given the recent allegations against Hammer. But then I liked the book too much to not watch the adaptation and went for it – only to be rather disappointed. The film doesn’t seem to have a clear grasp of its characters, and given that the story is all about relationships, that is a big problem.

So, instead of the protagonist growing from a shy, inexperienced girl to someone who makes her own decisions and stands by them, she is already self-assured from the start, literally taking the wheel when she is driving with Maxim. Maxim himself remains a cypher. The only one who really has a clear contour is Mrs Danvers, but the film seems barely interested in her which also feels like a fundamental misunderstanding of the novel.

The protagonist (Lily James) sitting in Maxim's (Armie Hammer) lap.

I probably wouldn’t have minded so much if they had changed those things to make something new of the story, to reinterpret it. But instead the film seems to take away layers and replacing them with nothing. In short, it feels hollow and thin where it should be plentiful.

What it does get very right is the way it looks. The sets, the costumes, the colors – they really make the most of what they have and they have a lot. But when the rest of the film feels so little cared for and empty, a pretty shell just isn’t enough.

The protagonist (Lily James) looking in a mirror with Mrs Danvers (Kristin Scott Thomas) standing behind her.

Summarizing: could have been much more.

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