Monday, 2 November 2020

David at the Movies: Pretty - and pretty silly - remake



Sixty years on from the Hitchcock movie of Daphne du Maurier’s haunting romance thriller, Netflix have tarted it up with a glamorous cast and lovely locations, but as with their remake of The Boys in the Band I'm wondering: why? The revision doesn’t add anything new – except colour in place of black-and-white. The story is meant to be “timeless”, but aren’t there any new stories out there waiting to be filmed (David Gee’s Lillian and the Italians, for example – coming soon to a bookstore near you!)?

I’m not sure what the time setting is: a bit more modern than the Forties. Our heroine (Lily James and still nameless, as in the novel) is romanced in Monte Carlo by handsome widower Maxim de Winter (Armie Hammer, sporting an English accent that suggests he was voice-coached by Prince William). He takes her home to his magnificent coastal house Manderley (not sure it’s still in Cornwall – no echoes of Poldark that I could spot). Here we meet the formidable Mrs Danvers (Kristin Scott Thomas) who has kept Manderley – and herself – as a shrine to Rebecca, the first Mrs de Winter who drowned a year ago.

Mrs Danvers is the key character. In the 1940 version her obsession with Rebecca was threatening and creepy – it was even possible to read in a lesbian undertone. Kristin Scott Thomas is heroically starchy and becomes subtly sinister, but this year’s script makes her more patronizing than obsessive, and the battle between her and the new wife is more a power struggle rather than a study in psychosis.

The 1940 Alfred Hitchcock version
Lily James gives us a feisty Mrs de Winter, but Armie Hammer’s transition from attentive boyfriend to absentee husband is unconvincing. The melodramatic climax lifts the plot out of a rut but, far from satisfying, it is almost ludicrous. Times have changed, and maybe Rebecca is a bit too dated, and a bit silly, for today’s audience. Dated and silly doesn’t usually spoil an Agatha Christie remake (looking forward to Kenneth Branagh’s new Death on the Nile) but it doesn’t work for this Daphne du Maurier adaptation.

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