In 1939, Alfred Hitchcock got here to Hollywood. The English grasp of suspense would ply his commerce in sunny California, and Rebecca, his first American movie, would win him his first and solely Oscar. Despite the acclaim, Hitchcock hated Rebecca, because it was his first encounter with American censors and their stodgy Production Code, which made it almost unattainable to precisely adapt the Daphne du Maurier guide on which it was based mostly. Still, Hitchcock discovered a means, and we keep in mind Rebecca now as a classic.
Like different classics, Rebecca has been reinvented many instances. Director Ben Wheatley’s 2020 adaptation is the newest, and it’s new on Netflix this week. Being shot within the trendy period, Wheatley’s movie has considerably fewer hurdles to clear, on condition that we not have official arbiters dictating what Hollywood can and can’t put in a movie. It’s unusual, although. Even with the creative freedom of the 2020s, the brand new movie nonetheless manages to really feel just like the lesser work, as a result of it’s solely eager about probably the most superficial studying of the story.
The plots of each movies are largely equivalent (and trustworthy to the guide). An unnamed younger lady (Lily James) strikes up a whirlwind romance with the rich widower Maxim de Winter (Armie Hammer) and is swept away from her mundane life to go stay with him in his lavish property, Manderley, as his new spouse. Upon arriving, the brand new Madame de Winter finds that she lives within the shadow of the earlier Madame de Winter, Rebecca, who appeared to have been universally liked earlier than her premature demise. Rebecca has left Madame de Winter impossibly giant sneakers to fill.
Complicating issues is the cruelty of Mrs. Danvers (Kristin Scott Thomas), a housekeeper who adored Rebecca and loathes the very notion of a new Madame de Winter changing her. Caught between a world she barely understands and a lady she will’t stay as much as, Madame de Winter begins to despair, till she learns a secret that adjustments her relationship to Maxim, to Manderley, and everybody inside it.
Rebecca suffers largely as compared, as Wheatley’s selections stack up poorly in opposition to the older ones and provide shallower interpretations. There’s the casting of Armie Hammer as Maxim de Winter, a man who reads as almost the identical age as the lady who’s taking part in a younger ingenue — a selection that recasts the fraught nature of their relationship and his more and more hostile habits towards her. (He’s older within the authentic.) Similarly, within the new Rebecca, the previous Madame de Winter haunts Manderley, however she doesn’t really feel as all-consuming — her monogrammed accoutrements don’t seem in all places. If Hitchcock’s movie and the unique novel are ghost tales with out an precise ghost, then the brand new Netflix movie is one thing way more plain. The satan, in fact, is at all times within the particulars.
Here’s one: the climax of Rebecca hinges on a costume ball, the place Madame de Winter is cruelly manipulated by Mrs. Danvers into sporting a costume that Rebecca wore shortly earlier than her passing. In Hitchcock’s movie, Madame de Winter desires to make an entrance, however she doesn’t understand how. She stands atop a staircase, hopeful and keen, however everybody’s again is turned towards her. By the time she reaches her husband, she is timid and furtive, determined for approval. Every time I watch her fail, I really feel her disgrace. Wheatley’s model, however, broadcasts her with a drumroll. This time, everybody’s paying consideration — however the second loses me.
Both variations of the scene finish the identical means — along with her in tears and Maxim de Winter livid at her selection of costume — however they’re worlds aside. In the primary movie, the scene is an expression of sophistication dynamics, the narrative climax of a story about a lady swept into wealth and discovering that it desires nothing to do along with her; it means Danvers’ remedy of the brand new Madame turns into doubly merciless as a result of it’s not nearly a costume. In the brand new movie — which is sort of wholly bored with class — it reads as one other offense from a merciless manipulator.
The variations between the 2 Rebeccas remind me of Disney’s disappointing remakes of their animated classics. They’re films that attempt for visible magnificence at the price of emotional constancy. Relaying tales of journey or romance requires various things in numerous mediums, and it’s unattainable to make a 1:1 switch — between, say, stay motion and animation. You might be extraordinarily trustworthy to a work and nonetheless produce one thing soulless.
The director and stars of Rebecca declare they aren’t remaking Hitchcock’s movie and are as an alternative creating a new tackle the supply materials. The implication, clearly, is that a new Rebecca might be up to date in its aesthetics and in the way in which it interprets the guide. And in some particular methods, the movie succeeds at this. The digicam is nearer and extra intimate, and plot turns that needed to be indirect within the ‘40s are now explicit. The story’s queer subtext is now textual content.
Yet every of these choices diminishes the movie as a complete. The new Rebecca fixes its digicam on its lovely forged so squarely that you just not have a sense of what it’s wish to be misplaced in Manderley and its extravagance — and, certainly, the world of wealth through which the brand new Madame finds herself misplaced. In making character motivations clearer, they’re robbed of their complexity. And in settling the query of Mrs. Danvers’ love of Rebecca, the movie consigns her to a clear doom as an alternative of a largely ambiguous one.
Good artwork is usually decided by what’s left unsaid. Filmmakers working in Old Hollywood handled a large quantity of industry-imposed limitations and nonetheless managed to create enduring artwork.
Liberated as the brand new Rebecca could also be, it falls into an outdated lure: telling an excessive amount of when displaying will do. In a world the place it’s free to say no matter it desires, Netflix’s Rebecca fails to speak something of substance.