Rebecca has some big shoes to fill with the classic novel and an award-winning Hitchcock adaptation, and this Netflix adaption falls pretty short.
Director: Ben Wheatley
Summary: A young newlywed arrives at her husband's imposing family estate on a windswept English coast and finds herself battling the shadow of his first wife, Rebecca, whose legacy lives on in the house long after her death.
Rebecca is one of those classic novels that most people probably read in grade school or college. It was written by Dame Daphne du Maurier, which was first published in 1938 and has not gone out of print yet. It's known for its opening line ("Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.") and the antagonistic Mrs. Danvers. If someone is unfamiliar with the book, they know of the Alfred Hitchcock adaptation, which was released in 1940. It went on to win Best Picture and Best Cinematography. The story has been adapted and inspired many times, but those two are so big shoes to fill. Director Ben Wheatley's adaption is supposed to be just an adaptation of the book and not a remake of the Hitchcock film, which infamously had to change a major plot point due to the Hollywood Production Code which while it doesn't ruin that movie it does sort of ruin the point. Wheatly doesn't have that type of restriction and appears to have a large enough budget, but the screenplay falls short.
Which is a shame because the cinematography is quite spectacular. This is a story told through three different genres, and the movie changes the way its shot and composed based on which genre it is. In the beginning, it is a sweet love story, the middle is a gothic horror story, and the ending is a procedural crime drama. This is most apparent in how the movie is lighted. The beginning is warm sunshine, the middle is cool dark colors with splashes of bright colors, and the ending is more muted and realistic colors. The cast very much plays into these tonal shifts as well, with Lilly James and Armie Hammer changing little things to show that a tone shift has happened.
The cast does a good job with the material that they are given, and the bare bones of this story remains fantastic because the source material is fantastic. Kristen Scott Thomas is fantastic as Mrs. Danvers as she walked the line of someone completely antagonistic and someone who is weirdly sympathetic. It's a hard line to walk when it comes to being sinister and sympathetic, but Scott is by far the highlight of the entire movie. James and Hammer are trying to do their best, but they don't have much chemistry, and they are believable as a couple. They are moving through these amazing sets in absolutely stunning costumes. It's just a shame that everything around them doesn't hold up.
Rebecca is far from the worst thing you've seen this year, and if you're just here for great sets, cinematography, and costumes, you're in for a treat. Everything else is a miss, which is a real considering this has the right twist at the end that the Hitchcock adaptation was lacking.