In the picture

November 1, 2020

The new adaptation of du Maurier’s Rebecca falls rather flat.


*ing: Lily James, Armie Hammer, Kristin Scott Thomas, Tom Goodman-Hill, Keeley Hawes, Sam Riley, and Ann Dowd

Directed by: Ben Wheatley

In 1941, Alfred Hitchcock earned a Best Picture Oscar for his adaptation of the Daphne du Maurier novel Rebecca. Nearly eighty years later, Ben Wheatley has absolutely no chance of repeating that feat with his bland revisit to the classic tale.

Wheatley’s movie tells the story, once again, of an inexperienced young woman (Lily James) who, after a whirlwind romance, marries a wealthy widower (Armie Hammer) and becomes the new Mrs. de Winter. But as she tries to settle down at her husband’s posh estate, she realizes that the shadow of her predecessor, Rebecca, still linger on the household and its residents.

The protagonist struggles not only to compete with the revered Rebecca but also fails to get her husband to open up about his late first wife and the circumstances of her death. Making matters worse is a manipulative housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers (Kristin Scott Thomas), who keeps attempting to undermine the newcomer at every turn.

What is meant to be a suspenseful yarn soon starts to feel more like dull, drawn-out melodrama. Lily James’s character seems like she has walked out of a rom-com into a soap opera that has mistaken itself for a thriller.

Armie Hammer’s Maxim isn’t intriguing enough to carry the film’s central mystery. James and Hammer – both actors with a charismatic screen presence – don’t seem like the best choices for their roles in this case; ultimately it’s just hard to care about either of their characters. (Kristin Scott Thomas, on the other hand, makes a menacing Mrs. Danvers, although her continued employment at Manderley despite her antics doesn’t quite ring true.)

The pacing of this two hour long film, too, is off. There are moments when you think the project might be heading in an interesting direction, but things often drag instead, the boredom sucking the intensity out of the proceedings. Towards the end, the film seems like it’s in a hurry to cram too much in before it reaches its rushed finale.

Some specifics, especially towards the end, are also unlikely to impress viewers who are familiar with the original narrative. The feisty young heroine the filmmakers have imagined here doesn’t belong in the story that they have set out to adapt. Because of the dull execution and uneven tone, this version works neither as a psychological thriller nor as a fascinating drama.

If you want to remake a tale that has already generated a celebrated piece by one of the most revered directors of all time, then you better hit the proverbial ball out of the park, which is something the new Rebecca does not do. The scenery may be gorgeous but there isn’t much of an emotional connection or riveting intrigue. And that is why this remake feels underwhelming and very unnecessary.

Rating system: *Not on your life * ½ If you really must waste your time ** Hardly worth the bother ** ½ Okay for a slow afternoon only
*** Good enough for a look see *** ½ Recommended viewing **** Don’t miss it **** ½ Almost perfect ***** Perfection

In the picture