The story of Rebecca follows the nameless heroine as she stumbles into an unlikely marriage with a famous aristocrat she happens to befriend on holiday, depicts her clumsy transition from paid companion to mistress of Manderley, and painfully describes her descent into madness inspired by the constant reminder of her predecessor – Rebecca.
Netflix announced its upcoming colourised version almost two years ago, casting Lily James as the second Mrs de Winter. James’ sunny disposition is superbly suited to Rebecca’s heroine, reminiscent of Joan Fontaine’s performance in the 1940 version. Roles such as Cinderella (2015) and Donna (Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, 2018) showcase James’ unique ability to capture both strength and optimism, so it will be very interesting to see how she can portray the solemnity and despair also required for the role. Hopefully she’ll play the role even better than Fontaine. Playing Mrs Danvers is Kristin Scott Thomas, who previously starred alongside James in Darkest Hour (2017).
Her heroine is a perfect role model for readers of any period, demonstrating tenacity and passion in the face of madness and abuse.
James will be playing adjacent Armie Hammer, another convincing casting choice. It is very difficult imagine anyone other than the iconic Laurence Olivier in such an intimidating role, but Hammer’s repertoire demonstrates his versatile range, including his ability to perform in romantic roles. Hammer, famous for starring roles in The Lone Ranger (2013) and Call Me By Your Name (2017) – as well as stint on Gossip Girl – is certainly a smart decision by Netflix to draw in a younger generation of viewers, rather than just fans of the original movie or people who have read the book. The chemistry between the two romantic leads was touched upon in the advert Netflix has recently released, certainly depicting a far steamier courtship than Du Maurier or Hitchcock had imagined.
Director Ben Wheatley has been nominated for numerous independent film awards over the last decade and has also written a couple of Doctor Who episodes. The trailer for Wheatley’s Rebecca seems to capture the intense and isolating tone from the novel perfectly, with many stylised choices apparent – especially the drastic shift in colour scheme and lighting for the late Mrs de Winter’s bedroom. Netflix has made a risky choice by selecting an established yet lesser known director, especially given the prestige of Hitchcock. It’s impossible to try and separate the two films as they will undoubtedly be compared, but Wheatley seems to be modernising the themes and will hopefully give the story a fresh adaptation. Although this is extremely exciting, I hope Wheatley strikes a considerate balance between respecting the beauty of the original text and catering to contemporary audiences.
The message behind Du Maurier’s Rebecca is one that resonates across time – one of the mysteries of love, jealousy, and insecurity. Her heroine is a perfect role model for readers of any period, demonstrating tenacity and passion in the face of madness and abuse. It is also a careful representation of the mental health issues men face due to emotional abuse, as demonstrated by Maxim’s temper and stoicism. The romantic leads in this story convey themes that are vital for contemporary audiences, which I hope Netflix respects.
So re-read the novel, re-watch Hitchcock’s imagining of it, and await eagerly for the most beautiful romance story of the last century to be re-popularised 21 October.
Featured image credit: IMDb