If you are unfamiliar with Daphne Du Maurier‘s legendary novel Rebecca (famously adapted to screen in 1940 by Alfred Hitchcock), this is the gist: a penniless, demure, sweet-natured lady’s companion meets and marries an enigmatic, moody mega rich widower in Monte Carlo, and competes for marital space with his extraordinarily glamorous deceased wife, the eponymous Rebecca, with a still very much alive and loyal retinue, undermining her every step in a majestic Tudor mansion.
A fan of Ben Wheatley‘s work, I came into this (Netflix) Rebecca wide-eyed and curious at what a filmmaker of his calibre and mercurial style would bring to the ur-ghost story of cinema, an intrinsically woven and menacingly erotic depiction of an entire narrative demonically possessed by a missing protagonist.
What an opportunity to go full throttle English Gothic, bring that grand haunted estate of Manderly, and its ancestral dampness, to a clever, dark and spicy boil. Then give it a cheeky female-centric class twirl in a postmodern rear-view mirror. Not to mention all the tense sexual possibilities, particularly of the necromantic kind, rampant throughout the original tale, wonderful Sapphic undertones Hitchcock could only so brilliantly imply.
None of that, though.
Instead, and I say it with a heavy heart, it was godawful. With apologies to the superb Kristin Scott Thomas, apparently the only one on set who understood what film she’s in. Nevertheless, her particular adoring mother-spider twist on Rebecca’s deadly devoted maid, and head housekeeper, the saturnine Mrs. Danvers, sans much of the implied lesbianism of the novel, could not earnestly bloom amidst the vacant central performances surrounding her, and the almost directionless mise-en-scène.
Mr and Mrs de Winter (no.2), the leading class divide dyad of the story, played by a bloodlessly brooding Armie Hammer, and a perpetually startled Lily James, exhibit such a lack of erotic investment in each other, except the most shallow of fancies – and given the nature of their predicaments, zero psychological complexities, with an inner life more resembling a perfume commercial, that at the end of the film, watching them ambivalently loved-up in a distant land, after Danvers torches the estate to the ground, I was expecting to be served some kind of final brand endorsement.
This could be the first case of creative abduction I ever witnessed in all my decades of watching films. Unless the filmmaker attempted to deconstruct the institution of marriage, and the British class system, through rendering a classic, yet deeply subversive tale of passion, bondage, illness and jealousy entirely soulless, and failed, epically.
Author: © Milana Vujkov