Lily James and a ruined Alfred Hitchcock masterpiece
(Credit: Netflix)

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Lily James and a ruined Alfred Hitchcock masterpiece

In 1940, Alfred Hitchock adapted Daphne du Maurier’s Gothic novel, Rebecca, into an eponymous film imbued in mystery and suspense, which prevailed as a masterpiece. When Netflix wanted to revolutionise the title in 2020 with Lily James and Armie Hammer in the centre, the film was seemingly destined to be a disaster.

In 1940, Hitchcock’s film starred Joan Fontaine as Mrs. de Winter and Laurence Oliver as Maxim de Winter, while Judith Anderson played the conniving Mrs Danvers. Tragic and psychologically stirring, the drama captured the ominous supernatural undertone within the novel. However, in 2020, when Ben Wheatley, known for Free Fire, was set to adapt the project, he said, “the thing I fear is the book, it’s not Hitchcock.” 

While the filmmaker was desperately trying to move on from the auteur’s shadow and create a film in his own right, he incorporated the same elements, leading to a sloppier and much less alluring remake. 

Instead of infusing in some of his ideas and using his strengths, namely psychedelic humour and dark comedy, Wheatley tried to overpower Hitchcock’s masterpiece, which seemed like a fruitless task.

Based on the 1938 novel, the film revolves around the lives of a newlywed couple who move to the widower’s imposing and intimidating family estate called Manderley in the English suburbs. The young wife is constantly haunted by the everlasting legacy and shadow of his now-deceased ex-wife, Rebecca.

The film starred Lily James as the naive Mrs. de Winter and the notorious alleged cannibal Armie Hammer as Maxim de Winter. In the light of the recent controversy, Hammer \’s casting is both controversial and bizarre. 

James is a good actress. She has performed well in films like Guernsey, Cinderella, The Dig, Baby Driver etc. However, in Rebecca, she fails to uphold the innocence of her character. In the book and Hitchcock’s film, Mrs. de Winter is naive and gullible and shocked by the events that occur around her in Manderley. James’ failure directly results from Wheatley’s inability to make the film appealing. 

Although he tried hard to infuse the elements of gothic horror and heighten the atmospheric tension, the book’s effect and Hitchock’s legacy remain unparalleled. The horror that resonates within the book’s pages somehow loses its gravitas in the well-shot film sequences.

Watch the 2020 adaptation of Rebecca on Netflix.