There is no such director who owns the exclusive rights for one book or another. Hence, we can’t ask one to not adapt it while appreciating the other. Because whether it was made for the big screen now or six decades ago, it is still an adaption and nothing else. However, when a new version does not deliver what we expect, want it or not, we have to look back and see why one director was able to get it while the contemporary simply misses the point.
Based on Daphne Du Maurier’s ‘Rebecca’, the film follows the deceased character’s widower, Maxim de Winter, who marries a young and charming woman (Lily James). As he brings her into his famous estate, known as Manderley, his new wife realizes that not only Maxim but the housekeeper, Mrs Danvers (Kristin Scott Thomas), is also haunted by the memory of Rebecca in a disturbing way.
Set in Europe, the film opens with an unnamed narrator who tells the audience about her dream of Manderley. It is then that we meet an unnamed young woman (played by Lily James), who works as a lady companion for an old lady. But when she meets De Winter, she instantly falls for him, forgetting about her own duties or why she is even in Europe. But when a sudden change of plan arose, Maxim, who shares the same feelings towards the young woman, proposes her immediately, making her Mrs de Winter.
However, the happiness between the two does not last long as strange things begin to occur in Manderley, all for Mrs Danvers, who especially lacks a sense of hospitality even though it is her direct responsibility to fulfil everything that is required by her patrons. Meant to be suspenseful, director Ben Wheatley tries to find the right tone throughout. But it is because of the wrong settings, soundtrack or no direction whatsoever, “Rebecca” sadly does not live up to its original, and miserably fails to grasp the concept altogether.
The problems in Rebecca 2020 are too many. First, it reveals the stark contrast between the audience of 1940 and 2020, their demands, preference in the storyline, even the written lines and certain scenes. Moreover, it reveals what we already knew – there is no second Joan Fontaine, Laurence Olivier, Dame Judith Alexander, nor the great Alfred Hitchcock. We don’t even have a censored Hollywood that would’ve thoroughly x-rayed the screenplay before approving it for production. And that’s the main problem of Ben Wheatley’s version – it is just so wrong from start to end.
“Rebecca” is not that awful, if that is the main concern. It has one particular scene involving an outstanding Kristin Scott Thomas, where she brushes Mrs de Winter’s hair. But that scene alone should not have been the highlight of a film that was expected to be full of suspense, thrill, and exceptional performance. And having Armie Hammer or Lily James does not help the movie to shine, rather, they are awfully miscast, as if they never felt or comprehended the iconic characters they were portraying, which is the sad reality, no matter how much I admire them as artists.
That said, “Rebecca” of the new generation won’t be having a long life to live. In fact, the film itself is on its last breath, almost as if it were on a suicidal mission. It’s neither exciting nor interesting. It is just a below-average film with a stellar cast. What is more upsetting is that it had the potential to be strong, intelligent and wicked. It could have been much better than it is if not for an overconfident cast and crew that was concentrated mostly on making the film rather than telling its story.