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Rebecca (2020)
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by Jay Seaver

"Not bad at all, but why?"
3 stars

It's been long enough since I've seen the Alfred Hitchcock version of "Rebecca" that it's hard to compare it to Ben Wheatley's new adaptation directly, but just knowing it exists and remembering that it's brilliant makes this one feel unnecessary. Lavishly shot as it is and despite it seldom actually falling below "pretty good", the original version can't help but loom over every decision Wheatley and company make here. Kind of amusing, I guess, given that this is "Rebecca" we're talking about, and I almost wonder if that meta-narrative amused the filmmakers throughout.

After all, Rebecca takes its title from the perfect first wife of Maxim de Winter (Armie Hammer), widowed a year when he arrives in Monte Carlo and makes the acquaintance of a fellow traveler's lady's companion. Soon, he and the girl are married and return to Manderley, the de Winter family estate, after a European honeymoon. It would be a major adjustment for the new Mrs. de Winter (Lily James) even if the memory of the late Rebecca didn't hang over the place from business manager Frank Crawley (Tom Goodman-Hill) to housekeeper Mrs. Danvers (Kristin Scott Thomas), with Maxim occasionally sleepwalking to the shuttered west wing and snapping at his bride when she wants to know more.

A new version of Rebecca need necessarily be unworthy or uninteresting, especially with Ben Wheatley at the helm. Outside of his television work, this is one of the first times he's seemingly been shooting someone else's project (neither he nor wife Amy Jump have writing and producing credits and it does not come from his Rook Films shingle), and it certainly doesn't feel like his sort of thing in obvious ways: It's polished and tony, prone to play things out rather than the way he usually pushes forward past the bland connective tissue. What he does bring is an uncanny sense of where the line is between a ghost story and something that feels like it could become a ghost story at any second, and maybe most importantly, a sense of what is specifically English or British about a story and how might mean a lot of things. There's a class-consciousness to this movie that many trying to shoot it might dance around or make universal. Where many might see the DeWinters and Manderley as aspirational, this group leans into how this system feels almost alien to their eyes 80 years later, just as it likely would for the new Mrs. de Winter herself.

It gives Lily James a lot to work with, despite her being pretty and elegant enough in the fine costumes that one wouldn't necessarily peg her as a serving-class girl who has married above her station; she manages to make her unnamed character uncomplicated and as such a little in awe of the world she's thrust into, the sort of awe that overlaps easily with frustration. She's good at connecting the clumsy maneuvers at the start with the more determined action at the end. She and Armie Hammer spend much of the movie reacting to each other as much as having conventional chemistry, but it works for this story - the pair know there's something good there but don't exactly know how to access it.

And then there's Kristin Scott Thomas, who shows up when the characters finally arrive at the great house and quietly announces that it's her movie now. She's fantastic and magnetic, doing more with reserve than many can do with grander melodrama. When "Dani" appears the villain, she's such a frighteningly assured one that Thomas doesn't have to underline it at all; when she's sympathetic, it's only a slight pivot that redirects the way the entire film comes across. It's a great performance that doesn't announce itself but is also never trying to hide.

Is it enough that I'll ever watch this movie again, what with the other version already being on my shelf? Doubtful. But right now, it looks like the Hitchcock isn't on any streaming service, and if this one is all you have access to, it's not exactly disappointing.

link directly to this review at https://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=33843&reviewer=371
originally posted: 10/19/20 15:09:49
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User Comments

11/05/20 Louise (the real one) Hammer a poor choice for Max de Winter. Bad soundtrack and fake-looking scenery. 3 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  16-Oct-2020 (PG-13)

UK
  N/A (12A)

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