Here I am today, finally, with my review of the 2020 adaptation of Rebecca. I was hoping to have this out a few days ago, but I was sick and couldn’t get it written. Please beware there may be SPOILERS in this post, including at the end where there aren’t DEFINITELY SPOILERS. With that said, let’s get into it.
I have to admit that I was terrified going into this. Rebecca is one of my top three favourite books of all-time, and seeing a favourite adapted is always nerve-wracking. I want to mention this because I’m not a film critic—I don’t really care about the director’s voice (which has been the main criticism I’ve seen) or anything like that, I care about whether this is the story I love or not.
Let’s start with some general things. For one, I really liked the pacing. Rebecca is not a fast-paced story—the book is slow and du Maurier is not telling you anything until she’s ready. I think the movie pulled that off well enough, with each twist being revealed in time, but without it feeling as slow as the book does in parts. I think the only thing that really disappointed me was the casting—don’t get me wrong, I love both Armie Hammer and Lily James. I think in terms of the characters they did well in the roles, but Maxim de Winter is meant to be 42 and Mrs de Winter in her early twenties. I know it’s such a particular thing to mention, but the actors are only 3 years apart in age in real life, and that twenty-something age difference in the book adds something else to the characters.
On the flip side, you can’t convince me that Kristin Scott Thomas wasn’t made for the role of Mrs Danvers. She is incredible—every single line, every single expression—just perfect.
Speaking of perfect, there were a couple of others things I really loved. Starting with…the costumes. While there were a couple that were a bit hit or miss—there were a couple I thought were absolutely stunning, and one or two that felt very inspired by photos of du Maurier herself. I loved the different colour palettes and styles that we got to see, and while I’m no fashion historian, there was nothing that instantly stuck out to me as looking too modern.
That leads me to the cinematography. On the whole, I think it’s a beautiful film. I’m a complete sucker for an aesthetically pleasing film—I love things like Bright Star, the 2005 Pride and Prejudice and movies like that, because of their beauty. So it’s really no surprise that I liked this one for that aspect. I tried really hard to find pictures of a few different scenes to include in here, but there just aren’t any online. But there are some really beautiful scenery shots in particular, though I’m really sad that they don’t seemed to have filmed any of it actually in Cornwall, which is a) such a beautiful part of England, and b) you know, where the book is set and du Maurier spent a great deal of her time writing and living with her family.
Finally, the house. It would’ve be great to have seen Menabilly, the house du Maurier lived in and thought of as Manderley, feature in the film. It is, however, privately owned and in a rather difficult position to film. That being said, the house used (or rather houses) is a beautiful setting. I loved the interior design of it, particularly all the art on the walls—it made me feel almost as if I was in an art museum again. (Or maybe I’m just really missing them.) Either way, I thought the detail was incredible. There were actually quite a few things that my Grandma used to own similar versions of. The one I can remember very clearly was one of the hairbrushes. Again, this is such an insignificant detail, but it’s a little personal detail that reminded me of my Grandma, who was the one to introduce me to Rebecca in the first place. (I mean my memories of that hairbrush includes hours of her painstakingly trying to get the knots out of my hair as a very young child, but memories are memories.)
So what did I not like? I don’t really want to go into too much detail about this part because there are countless reviews going around that do just that, but I’d feel disingenuous if I didn’t mention anything. So let’s start with the ending. This is where we really get into spoilers, so again…
I loved the images of Manderley going up in flames—as tragic as it is, it was sort of a beautiful way of it being revealed. I didn’t like how they dealt with Mrs Danvers character at all here. I think it’s kind of obvious she lit the fire without us having to actual see her do it. In fact, I didn’t like what they did with Danvers for the last section of the movie at all. I didn’t like at all how Mrs De Winter found her by the cliff face, and I particularly detested her subsequent suicide. In the book, Danvers leaves after setting the fire, and is presumably still alive even as the narrator is writing many years later. Let’s maybe not use suicide for solely dramatic purposes when it’s not in the original source material? I admit I did like the sort of like the hint at Danver’s love for Rebecca. There are so many examples of LGBTQ+ hints in du Maurier’s books, so honestly, bonus points for that. Plus du Maurier was bisexual, or at least had relationships with women, so who says that wasn’t always her idea?
One last thing because this review is already much longer than I meant it to be. But I definitely think this movie is framed more as a romance than I’ve ever felt the book was personally. I know it gets labelled as such, but I always think of it more as a Gothic tale. I don’t really see the romance between Maxim and the narrator, but it is obviously there in the movie. It’s obvious at the very least that he’s fond of her, but the book I always felt like du Maurier was preoccupied with other things rather than trying to portray a love story. I love romance books and movies, but here I felt almost as if it cheapened the story a little.
So how did I feel about it? On the whole, I did really enjoy it. Is that more because I thought the cinematography was interesting rather than the story being true to the book? Maybe it is. I think it’s one I’ll have to rewatch before I really make up my mind.