Tired and Uninspired: A Review of 2020's Rebecca.
Netflix released a new adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca this past October and you can bet your ass I watched it the day it dropped.
We all know I love a good piece of gothic literature. We also know I love a good psychological thriller. I am most definitely a fan of Rebecca. It shows all the high points of gothic literature and psychological thrillers. I would love to be a part of an English class where all that’s discussed is Rebecca; I can go on and on about it.
When it comes to the new movie adaptation though…I wasn’t that excited after watching it.
Let’s be honest, Rebecca is a hard piece to adapt. The novel relies so heavily on the psychological aspect of the story. Everything is so tightly woven into the plot that even if one piece of information or plot point is removed, the story can easily fall apart.
This is where 2020’s Rebecca fails for me. Details, and small details at that, matter in this book. Therefore, they matter to any adaptation of Rebecca. The newest adaptation doesn’t have all the details. It has the overarching story of the whirlwind romance between Maxim de Winter and the young woman who quickly becomes his second wife before the pair return to his ancestral home known as Manderley where she is then tormented by the memory of the first Mrs. de Winter. For the most part, screenwriter Jane Goldman keep this overarching story, along with the ending mystery, pretty much the same; but that’s about it.
The film definitely matches the main story of the 1938 novel, but the film does not contain that psychological horror the novel presents. The build up to the masquerade ball doesn’t exist. Supporting characters from the novel feel pushed to the side. Rebecca’s true nature doesn’t feel like a massive reveal; she doesn’t even feel like a main character in this film and she is the titular character. And Mrs. Danvers’ cruelty isn’t as extreme as it should be either.
Let’s go item by item and discuss these issues beginning with Mrs. Danvers.
Danvers is portrayed by Kristin Scott Thomas in this latest adaptation. Thomas’ character was one of the biggest disappointments I had with Rebecca. Danvers is one of the main reasons the new Mrs. de Winter, played by Lily James in the film, feels unwelcome and unwanted in her new home. Danvers is the reason why James’ character becomes suicidal. But instead of feeling like a manipulative villain, Thomas’ portrayal makes Mrs. Danvers just come across as a general bitch.
The same can be said for Rebecca. She may no longer be physically alive, but her spirit is alive and thriving in the minds of others. The writing of the film sadly makes her feel shoehorned in. Every time a new character is met, they automatically have to compare the second Mrs. de Winter to the first one. This dialogue is not natural. It’s as if every character is overcome with the need to talk about Rebecca, how perfect she is, and nothing else. Du Maurier created dialogue where the conversations would naturally lead to mentioning Rebecca. Goldman created dialogue where supporting characters had to mention Rebecca or else the movie could not continue.
Because this dialogue is so forced, Maxim’s reveal that Rebecca was a mythic bitch who slept with any man she came across isn’t shocking like it should be. The positive experiences other characters claimed to have had with Rebecca come across as false. You’re only told that she was horrible, you’re never shown.
Now speaking of supporting characters, this film doesn’t have any. Frank Crawley is an important character in the book who hardly to ever be seen in the film. The same goes for Jack Favell. He shows up for one scene with the new Mrs. de Winter and goes away until he’s needed at the end of the film. Beatrice is supposed to become a friend of the new Mrs. de Winter, only for the film to give her two quick scenes where she does absolutely nothing. Seriously, why include these characters at this point.
Honestly, all the characters are a low point for this adaptation. Maxim de Winter, played by Armie Hammer in this adaptation, is more likable compared to his book counterpart. His performance is lackluster though. Every time he appeared on screen I was bored out of my mind. Lily James as our unnamed main character was not much better. She’s presented as a clumsy, insecure young woman. Her insecurity is supposed to make her endearing, but her anxiety just gave me anxiety.
There isn’t much more to these characters than that. To be honest, there isn’t much of a character arc for any character. The stakes in this story do not exist. There is never any build up to any important event or plot point. This film builds up to nothing and its runtime is just over two hours long. How can such a boring movie be over two hours long?
At least it’s beautiful to look at. There’s a stark contrast between the Monte Carlo scenes and the Manderley scenes. Monte Carlo is light and airy. The set dressings are light neutrals, golds, and a few pastels while Manderley is set in deep rich mahoganies, and reds. The set decorators and location scouts did a marvelous job. This is a pretty movie to watch.
That being said, I’m just so disinterested in this film. I could have lived my whole life without it. I watched this film when I had a day off, the next day I had to work all day, and by the time I sat down to begin writing this I had forgotten a lot of this film. It is so uninspired, so drawn out, forgettable, and just plain boring. This film just exists. There are better ways to spend two hours than watching this movie.