Call me a sucker for good looking adaptations, but I preferred Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Devdas to Bimal Roy’s adaptation of the literary classic by Sarachandra Chatterjee. Why? Because Bimal Roy was slavishly faithful to the source material. Bhansali took wild operatic liberties and emerged with a work that blended the epic and the operatic .
This bright shiny new adaptation of Rebecca follows none of the rules of Daphne de Maurier’s original, the way Alfred Hitchcock did in his 1940 adaptation. The new-age Rebecca is more freewheeling in its cryptic creepy context, embracing the enigma of the novel without being smothered by it.
More than the adherence to the original plot, I am impressed by the dazzling good looks of the young lead and the locations(Dorset and Devon in England). As the aristocratic Maxim de Winter and his unnamed working-class wife Armie Hammer and Lily James (think Prince Charles and Princess Diana) look every bit the archetypal star-crossed lovers whose sudden marriage is marred by the presence of Maxim’s first wife’s ghost. Keep those flickering candles ready, will you?
I think the success of this version of the story resides in the ‘ghost’ not being taken literally. Director Ben Wheatley doesn’t punctuate the spookiness. Rather he looks at the marriage between the socially-unequal pair as an alliance they are both desperate to make work, more than he. And the way Lily James transforms from a timid repressed sullen girl-child bedazzled by the world of affluence, to a tigress fighting to save her husband’s reputation is a pleasure to behold, in more ways than one.
I have always seen Maxim de Winter as a frosty priggish wimp. The way the great Sir Laurence Olivier played him is not how Daphne du Maurier wrote him. Armie Hammer gets Maxim by his coat-tail and wanks him into a kind of reluctant recluse, who would rather party all night. But what to do? When life gifts him with lemonades he can’t transform them into tequilas. Hammer’s is not a great performance. He isn’t capable of that. But he is adequate. More than that, actually.
It is the very accomplished Kristin Scott Thomas as the dreadful and the dreaded housekeeper who brings a tormenting creepiness to the proceedings. The film should have shown more confrontational interludes between Maxim’s new bride (why the frock doesn't she have a name?!) and the housekeeper who is devoted to the first wife (Rebecca) that she wants the first out of the ancestral house the sooner the better.
There is nothing hurried about Rebecca. The storytelling is long limbed and languorous, luscious at times, seldom turgid but never so ripe as to be plucked out of its literary context. Rather than genuflect before the original literary work, this film teases its way around its sacrosanct grounds. It’s like planting saplings in a thick forest. You never can get enough of it. You can’t miss the charm of the tender action.
I'd go with 3.5 stars.
Image source: IMDb