PLOT: A young bride-to-be finds herself constantly reminded of the woman that came before her when she arrives at her new husband’s family estate. This is Ben Wheatley‘s take on the Alfred Hitchcock classic film REBECCA.
REVIEW: One could say that remaking one of Alfred Hitchcock‘s classics would be a fool’s errand. The obvious example is Gus Van Sant‘s bizarre shot-for-shot PSYCHO experiment. However, it may not be entirely impossible to recreate a bit of magic. In the latest from Ben Wheatley (KILL LIST, FREE FIRE), the filmmaker takes on Hitchcock’s REBECCA. The Oscar-winning mystery featured the legendary Sir Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine and is considered by many to be one of the best of its kind. In the latest version – which is slightly closer to the novel by Daphne Du Maurier that Hitchcock’s own – Lily James plays the young woman who falls for a wealthy Englishman; this time, played by Armie Hammer. Read on and find out how well Wheatley’s take on this tale of romance still resonates.
Lily James is a young woman who works for a spoiled and arrogant Mrs. Van Hopper (Ann Dowd), who finds herself pursued romantically by the handsome and wealthy Maxim de Winter (Hammer). The two fall desperately in love, and he asks for her hand in marriage. Once he brings her back to his home, the stunning family estate Mandalay, the young bride finds that she lives in the shadow of his previous wife, Rebecca. Mrs. Danvers (Kristin Scott Thomas), who runs the household, appears to have a deep resentment for the young woman. Soon, a mystery unfolds as to what happened to the first wife, the one whose presence lingers in every inch of the house.
Ben Wheatley has taken intriguingly unique turns in his filmmaking career. Making a classic and mysterious romance was not one that you may expect. Especially true when it’s a remake of one of Alfred Hitchcock‘s most celebrated. Thankfully, with the help of cinematographer Laurie Rose, he paints a lush and beautiful story that is the backdrop for this romantic mystery. The sets are incredible, and the landscape is quite intoxicating. As well, the script by Jane Goldman, Joe Shrapnel, and Anna Waterhouse adds a little intrigue. Yet the mystery isn’t mysterious. It’s predictable and overly drenched in melodrama. Thankfully, there are enough elements to keep the viewer intrigued, even if it’s clear which direction this old-fashioned tale is heading.
The bright spots include the smart casting of Kristin Scott Thomas, and most importantly, Lily James. Armie Hammer is an interesting and somewhat engaging male lead. For much of the first half, we must believe that James and Hammer are falling madly in love. It’s not that hard to comprehend. The two play off of each other well enough, so when they ultimately arrive at Mandalay, you as the viewer are on her side. As for Kristin Scott Thomas, the actress excels at roles like this. The chemistry between her and James is equally as important as the one she shares with Hammer, and perhaps more significant. The three actors create quite a vicious circle, even if the outcome isn’t all that shocking. That said, it’s a lovely ride watching these three talents work together. And it was nice to see Sam Riley show up as a man who holds a secret resentment to de Winter.
As this story unravels, you may very well enjoy the spectacle of it all. If you are familiar with the original classic, there are a few changes made here. Not all of them work, and the balance of romance and mystery fails to capture the magic of Hitchcocks’. That said, this Netflix original warrants a view for other reasons. The costumes are impressive, as are the gorgeous locations all on display. It’s exciting to see Wheatley explore something so unexpected and effortlessly romance fueled. As a remake, REBECCA manages to present an engaging couple of hours that you’re likely to find redeemable and entertaining.
Wheatley took a chance by remaking an Academy Award-winning Hitchcock mystery. While the material doesn’t rise to the level of what came before, there’s enough here to enjoy. Lily James once again radiates, and much of the success is the impressive and natural performance she gives. It also helps that she shines whether she’s engaging in a romance with Hammer or a battle of wits with Thomas. If you’re looking for a bit of charm, REBECCA is a beautifully shot film with a lovely score by Clint Mansell, but don’t go in with the expectations that this will rise above the Alfred Hitchcock masterwork. The romance is there, but the mystery isn’t very mysterious.