Just in time for Halloween, Netflix released the latest adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s 1938 classic gothic book Rebecca, named as the Anthony Award’s Novel of the Century. So I decided to revisit the book, the Hitchcock film, and the Netflix movie.
From the publisher: The novel begins in Monte Carlo, where our heroine is swept off her feet by the dashing widower Maxim de Winter and his sudden proposal of marriage. Orphaned and working as a lady’s maid, she can barely believe her luck. It is only when they arrive at his massive country estate that she realizes how large a shadow his late wife will cast over their lives–presenting her with a lingering evil that threatens to destroy their marriage from beyond the grave.
I listened to the audio book of Rebecca, narrated by Anna Massey, and she did a most excellent job. The only trouble I had was with her portrayal of Maxim. For me, the one and only Maxim is Sir Laurence Olivier, so it was difficult to hear a different interpretation of the man. But after a while, I did get used to it. Massey’s Mrs. Danvers is just as creepy as ever, and the unnamed narrator just as naive as I remembered. The book was just as good in audio format as it was when I first read it years ago.
The Hitchcock version of Rebecca is a masterpiece. It is the only film where Hitchcock was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Director (and lost, if you can believe it). Sir Laurence Olivier’s Maxim matches the book version very well. Hitchcock’s staging is wonderful, retaining a lot of the original dialogue of the book. Joan Fontaine is more than adequate as the unnamed second Mrs. de Winter. Sure, the scenes in the car with the road in the background, obviously done on set, are a little cheesy now, but it was rare to make a movie on location in those days. Besides, there’s a lot of nuanced acting in those car scenes that speak volumes more than having the two characters prattle on. And I don’t think I need to say anything about Judith Anderson’s Mrs. Danvers other than “Nailed It!”
I had issues with the Netflix version of Rebecca. First, Armie Hammer is woefully miscast as Maxim de Winter. He just doesn’t have the edge needed to portray a haunted man. He just comes off as a quiet man. And Kristin Scott Thomas’ Mrs. Danvers wasn’t menacing enough although she’s the best thing in the movie. Lilly James is continually flinching. The movie props and settings were pretty to look at (but I also found some of the costuming questionable, like the mustard yellow suits), but I found the acting lacking. And what’s up with the ending? If you haven’t seen it, I’m not going to spoil it for you.
If you liked the Netflix version, then you’ll be gobsmacked by the other versions, because they are all so much better than the 2020 release. The book (Amazon) (AbeBooks), the audio version, the Hitchcock movie (Multi-Format) (Criterion Collection), Masterpiece Theater (Prime Video) or Masterpiece Theater (DVD). There’s even a 1962 TV version of Rebecca on Amazon Prime Video that you can stream that’s probably better than the Netflix version.
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